FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS, a German-backed scholarship programme has helped transform the lives and prospects of numerous displaced young people. The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) scholarship programme has transformed over 21,500 refugee students’ lives around the world, with most in recent years from the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia.

The students are majoring in fields from medicine to business administration, social and behavioural sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, among other subjects.

“Over three decades, DAFI has been transformative, providing opportunity and hope to thousands of refugee students, enabling them to fulfill their potential, and change their lives for the better,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “It’s a proven model that must be scaled up to help ensure we reach our ‘15by30’ goal – to get 15 per cent of refugees in tertiary education by 2030!”

In its 2021 DAFI report, Higher Education: Now is the Time, UNHCR warns of widening disparity in both education quality and access between high and low-income countries, where most refugees are hosted. Uneven re-openings of schools following the Covid-19 pandemic heightened the risk of reversing hard-won gains.

By the end of 2021, over 8,300 young refugees from 53 countries were enrolled in DAFI scholarships in 55 countries, an impressive leap of nearly 1,000 students compared to the 2020 cohort. Female students represented 41 per cent of the total, and achieving gender parity remains a core aim of the programme.

Nearly half of the students were studying in Ethiopia, Türkiye, Pakistan, Kenya and the Islamic Republic of Iran, countries that host some of the largest refugee populations worldwide.

Last year drew record applications of more than 15,800, reflecting increased demand and greater need for investment in higher education scholarships and opportunities for refugees. However, refugee enrolment in higher education stands at only six per cent, although this continues an upward trend from a mere one per cent only a few years ago.

“Due to host community restrictions, severe cost and financial barriers, the lack of opportunities for employment, the language barrier, and other factors, access to higher education for a refugee seems impossible”, said a graduate from the DAFI programme, Khatira, a finance officer working in Pakistan, regarding the broader barriers refugees face in accessing higher education. “In these circumstances, opportunities like the DAFI scholarship are nothing short of a miracle.”

* Read The 2021 DAFI Annual Report, Higher Education: Now is the Time here.

* Source: UNHCR