The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project aims to make educational programs available where refugees need them. In the Global South there are currently some 15.2 million people caught in refugee situations, often for ten years or more as an outcome of war, human rights violations, and/or persecution in their home countries. Attending university or accessing other tertiary degree programs has been almost impossible. Young women face additional barriers to pursuing an education. To redress this situation our aim is to provide gender equitable teacher training programs to working, untrained teachers who can then contribute back to the community, increasing and improving education in the camps overall.
Refugees who have completed secondary school almost universally voice the desire to attend university, but to date international scholarships to schools in the Global North remain the only opportunity to pursue a higher education. These scholarships are few, and only benefit the one percent who secure them based on age, availability and merit, among other factors. For the majority of students, higher education remains out of reach.
In the region of Dadaab, Kenya, for example, education within the six camps is limited to primary and sometimes secondary instruction. At these levels, class sizes are immense and materials are scarce. Many teachers often possess insufficient training, most of whom having completed only elementary or secondary school themselves. Amidst these challenges, young women face additional barriers to pursuing an education. Often seen as subordinate to boys, girls have had fewer opportunities to attend school while also balancing responsibilities for domestic labour and, due to the pressures of poverty, sometimes taking on paid work. Other challenges serve to encumber girls’ access to education: early marriage, lack of sanitary napkins relegating girls to the home, and minority status in class result in a hesitance to ask questions and seek explanations for content they do not understand.
To redress this situation our aim is to provide gender equitable teacher training programs to working, untrained teachers who can then contribute back to the community, increasing and improving education in the camps overall. These same teachers can continue beyond teacher training certificates and diplomas, applying their “portable” earned credit towards full degree programs. In doing so, BHER students can increase their opportunities for employment in the camps, local areas and upon resettlement or repatriation to their home country. To foster the educational pursuits of young women, BHER is establishing a mentorship program that pairs young local women with other international scholars and students to encourage and assist them with the challenges of school, employment, and managing other social expectations. Providing gender equitable access to education, a key component of the BHER project, will increase opportunities for young women to access employment and participate actively in local decision making.
The BHER training program has been developed with the unique challenges of refugee camps in mind. As such, to provide teacher training and higher education we are creating and delivering onsite and on-line courses through the coordination of our partners and built on work already being done (Learn more | Dadaab-About). Courses meet international standards and are offered through the joint efforts of our partner organizations. All offerings will be “stackable”, allowing students to earn a certificates or diplomas at each level of study, incrementally building towards earning a degree (Learn more | Feasibility Study Report).
(1) Improve the equitable delivery of quality education in refugee camps and adjacent local communities through university training opportunities which will prepare a new generation of male and female teachers; (2) Create targeted, continuing opportunities for young men and women in university programs that will enhance their employability through portable certificates, diplomas and degrees; (3) Build the capacity of Kenyan academic institutions that already offer onsite/on-line university degree programs to vulnerable and marginalized groups.
 UNHCR 2012. “Global Trends Report”. Online, http://www.unhcr.org/4fd9e6266.html. Accessed June 2012. This figure excludes IDPs or those seeking asylum: it is solely UNHCR’s assessment of the amount of refugees in 2011. The total figure for refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers is 42.5 million in 2011.