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Limited tertiary ed access creating “lost generation” of refugees

Extremely low levels of refugees entering tertiary education could lead to a “lost generation” delegates at the recent Going Global conference in Kuala Lumpur were told.

Allison Chruch says more work needs to be done to integrate work with study for refugees. Photo: The PIEAllison Chruch says more work needs to be done to integrate work with study for refugees. Photo: The PIE

1% of refugees access tertiary education compared to a 34% global average

According to experts, current levels of refugee access to higher, technical, and vocational education & training was putting immense pressure on young people looking to rebuild their lives and countries.

“Refugees see education as an essential stepping stone to a better life”

“At a time of high global unemployment… refugees, more than ever, see education as an essential stepping stone to a better life and an opportunity to be able to rebuild their countries when peace is found,” said Gail Campbell, British Council’s director of education in the MENA region.

“With over 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, out of which 61% are under the age of 26, we’re living through the highest level of displacement globally, and a record and extraordinary loss of human talent.”

The level of refugees in education is currently 1%, compared to a 34% global average.

Mohamad Saad, head of psychology at The British University in Egypt, said refugees experienced several barriers to accessing tertiary education, including high costs, cultural differences, language barriers, mismatches in education systems and limited existing education.

“Only 6% of Syrian refugees joined the high school system, which means the input for tertiary education is already low,” Saad said.

“There’s huge generations that can be lost if we [don’t] organise these programs to provide them access to higher education and services.”

He warned, however, that a global strategy was unlikely to have a significant impact and that each country needed to tailor its tertiary education strategies for each refugee population.

“We need to take into consideration that we need to tailor, we need to adjust, we need to adopt, we need to be quite flexible. You need to be fast and adaptive, or else strategy is useless,” Saad argued.

One example of strategy having unintended negative consequences, said Allison Church, director of educational program at Kiron Open Higher Education, were programs which sought to rectify inequalities without addressing the labour force.

“A lot of international funding and international focus has gone into empowering women on the ground in refugee communities, which is a nice change of pace,” she said.

“However, the people who are still accessing the labour market, the people who are still running any activism and advocacy work are still males, and therefore there is a lost generation of males who are entering the workforce who are very low educated.”

“Only 6% of Syrian refugees joined the high school system, so the input for tertiary education is already low”

She said this posed severe dangers, adding that a growing population of unemployed and uneducated youth also posed security risks in host countries.

“Very little is being done, currently, to integrate from the education sphere into the workforce,” she said, advocating for the use of TVET and online education.

A better understanding and embracing of TVET could have a significant impact on refugees, according to UCL Institute of Education’s Paul Grainger, who said the sector was more adept at preparing refugees for work.

“The need for TVET is increasing because refugees are staying in their host communities longer,” he said.

“They’re progressing through primary, through secondary education into the need to integrate into the host population with some form of employment.”

Refugee access to higher education has grown as a talking point recently, with a Universities UK International report in April 2018 guiding universities on best practice and strategy building.

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