Tertiary education is an essential part of the education continuum. Graduates of tertiary education programmes have the best chances of self-reliance and resilience, and act as leaders and role models in their communities. Access to tertiary education serves as a strong incentive for students to continue and complete their education at the primary and secondary levels.
Tertiary education programmes are typically designed to provide students with academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies. These programmes are based on theory, research and practical components and often include a specific focus on civic engagement and/or community development.
It is believed that tertiary education can make a substantive and lasting contribution to the lives and livelihoods of those who are forcibly displaced. It has been shown to play a role in protecting refugee youth and young adults and other people affected by emergencies. It can prepare them and their communities for potentially attaining sustainable solutions in a variety of situations of forced displacement. It also fosters the development of critical thinking, knowledge production, and information literacy skills that contribute to post-conflict reconstruction, promote social, economic, and gender equality and empower refugee communities. Tertiary education has the potential to nurture a generation of future change-makers who can take the lead in identifying and accessing solutions for refugees, and are able to contribute to the peaceful development of their host countries for the duration of their displacement.
Defining Tertiary Education
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, ‘tertiary education builds on secondary education, providing learning activities in specialised fields of education. It aims at learning at a high level of complexity and specialisation. Tertiary education includes what is commonly understood as academic education, but is broader than that because it also includes advanced vocational or professional education’ (TVET).
Tertiary education systems include institutions such as universities, colleges, polytechnics, and vocational training institutions, either public or private, offering qualifications at different levels and of differing length through formal education programs either on-site, at distance or in a blended format.
Tertiary education is a human right: Access to tertiary education “on the basis of merit” is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 26.2), and referred to in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art. 13c). The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) affirmed the right of all children, regardless of status, to free and compulsory primary education, to available and accessible secondary education, and to tertiary education on the basis of capacity (United Nations, 1989, Art. 28).
Tertiary education strengthens the education continuum: Access to tertiary education serves as a strong incentive for students to continue and complete their studies at the primary and secondary levels. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) explicitly promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.
There is a large unmet demand for tertiary education among refugees: Refugees who have completed secondary school almost universally voice the desire to attend university. Opportunities for tertiary education for refugees, however, are severely limited and uneven across regions and settings of displacement, particularly for women. Difficulty accessing quality learning, education, and skill-building opportunities was one of ten issues highlighted by refugee youth during the 2016 Global Refugee Youth Consultations. Increases in secondary education enrolments raise the demand for tertiary education opportunities among refugee youth.
- Tertiary education protects and contributes to durable solutions: Tertiary education can foster the development of critical thinking, knowledge production, and information literacy skills that contribute to post-conflict reconstruction, promote social, economic, and gender equality and empower refugee communities to live self reliant lives and contribute to the peaceful development of host and home countries.
- "In general, primary education is formative while tertiary education has the possibility to be transformative." (Milton & Barakat 2016, 414)
This collection was developed with the support of Maren Kroeger and Leona Weiher at UNHCR.