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Over its 28-year history, the DAFI programme has supported more than 18,000 young refugee women and men to pursue their undergraduate degrees. DAFI remains the longest running and largest standalone tertiary scholarship programme for refugees and returnees, currently serving students in 54 countries. The idea underpinning the DAFI programme is simple but powerful: that talented, passionate students should be supported to thrive, pursue their dreams and become leaders in their fields of study and their communities. DAFI scholars have done just that and they continue to succeed beyond expectation. In 2019, a record number of 8,347 students were enrolled on DAFI scholarships. 1,063 of them earned their degrees in 2019, enriching and adding value to the academic communities and countries that host them and inspiring the thousands of young people that follow in their footsteps.
DAFI has grown rapidly since its inception, particularly over the last five years. Throughout this time, the programme has redoubled its commitment to developing the leadership potential of DAFI students. This means listening to the desires and aspirations of all students and ensuring that the programme evolves and adapts to the changing contexts and challenges that students face. Recognizing the persistent need for sustainable livelihoods for DAFI graduates, the programme issued new guidance promoting internships, skills development and career readiness. In 2019, 3,262 students of the DAFI student body volunteered in their communities. 652 students participated in an internship after, or as part of their degree programme. DAFI country programmes have made greater efforts in establishing linkages between refugee students and potential employers and in 2019, DAFI scholars were hired by international organisations, started their own businesses, awarded post-graduate degree scholarships, invested countless hours volunteering in their communities and earned positions working in their fields. DAFI students continue to play an important role in meeting the challenge to keep more refugee youth enrolled through secondary school and to ensure that the transition to higher education is a possibility for all.
In 2019, DAFI students represented 45 nationalities. 40% of all DAFI students were women. DAFI programmes in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 46% of the total DAFI student body, while those in the Middle East and North Africa made up 28%. Ethiopia had the largest DAFI programme (12% of the programme globally) and Syrian students made up the largest country of origin cohort (29% of the students globally).
The global impact of the DAFI programme was evident in a number of international events during 2019. In June, the German Federal Foreign Office, DAAD and UNHCR co-organised ‘The Other 1%’ international conference on refugees in higher education. Held at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany, the event was convened by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, alongside the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Mass. Over 500 participants attended sessions aimed at improving the understanding of barriers refugees face in accessing higher education and expanding higher education opportunities for refugees. A central feature of the conference was the attendance of a delegation of 20 refugee students who provided expert input on panels and presentations. The student delegation also conducted a two-day workshop prior to the conference that resulted in the formation of a global Tertiary Refugee Student Network (TRSN) which has since expanded its membership to represent hundreds of refugee students in higher education, including DAFI Club members from around the world.
In December 2019, the first Global Refugee Forum was convened in Geneva marking the largest ever refugee-focused global event. Education was one of six themes framing the event and two DAFI students served as refugee co-sponsors on the Education and Solutions themes. Tertiary refugee students were well-represented overall with a delegation of refugee scholars from DAFI, connected higher education, third country education pathways and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programmes in attendance. Students spoke on high-level panels, at press briefings, spotlight sessions and more. DAFI students collaborated with other tertiary students to advocate, connect and call for greater investment in higher education opportunities for refugees. In doing so, they cited better access to employment, the right to education, empowerment of women, launch of the TRSN, improved social cohesion and host community responsibility-sharing among their objectives and their achievements.
Education sessions at the Forum generated 204 pledges by government, NGO, private sector partners and multi-lateral institutions to expand and improve education for refugees. The scope of the pledges underscore the importance of every stage along the education continuum: the promise of tertiary education can only be realised if there are sufficient well-prepared secondary school graduates to take up available higher education opportunities; there must be comparable numbers of girls and boys completing primary and secondary school to ensure that pathways to higher education and to employment can be accessed by all; and students with disabilities and those with additional protection needs must be supported to access education equally.
2019 also saw the release of UNHCR’s education strategy, Refugee Education 2030: a strategy for refugee inclusion. The ten-year strategy was the product of consultation with partners across the refugee education sector. For tertiary education, the strategy sets a bold target to achieve enrolment of 15% of young refugee women and men by the year 2030. The road to 15% will require dedicated effort, innovation and sustained contributions in the form of partnership, expertise, funds and advocacy over the next ten years. Important investments will need to be made in national education systems and institutions to ensure that more refugees can access university, college, TVET and online and distance learning, including blended learning options, in their host countries. Coordination with international education and development partners will be central to this project. Refugee students will need access to more and better secondary education and will need to know that the transition to tertiary education is worthwhile, resulting in more jobs, greater self-reliance and corresponding benefits to host countries. As part of the 15%, the DAFI scholarship programme will serve as a model for other student-centred tertiary scholarship programmes that recognize that students are not just a number among the 15%, they are an inspiration and the driving force.
The DAFI programme is committed to supporting students to achieve the strong and sustainable futures that are possible following higher education. In years to come, the DAFI programme is committed to working with partners to better understand the global impact of higher education on refugee students, their communities and the countries that host them. The impacts of higher education for refugees are felt in terms of academic enrichment, learning outcomes, social cohesion gains, financial stability, individual confidence, motivation of young people, and greater enjoyment of rights. The DAFI programme will continue to work in partnership to better understand linkages between secondary and tertiary education for refugees, to enhance the higher education experience and to ease the transition to employment following graduation.
Global commitment to higher education for refugees is growing. The German government, the Saïd, Asfari and Hands Up Foundations and UNO Flüchtlingshilfe remain committed to the objectives of the DAFI programme. Building on that generosity and steadfast commitment, the government of Denmark has also pledged its support to the DAFI programme. With these strong partners, DAFI is poised to continue expanding its pioneering student-centred approach to higher education for refugees.
‘The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative increases the likelihood of more refugees being able to realise their full potential by granting young people access to education beyond economic, political and social borders.’ – Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, opening remarks ‘The Other 1%’ conference on refugees in higher education.
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