The right to higher education for refugees and forcibly displaced people

The number of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world has doubled in the last decade. In 2022, UNHCR estimates that 100 million people were forced to flee their homes due to conflict, natural disaster, violence, or threat of persecution. Those who have been displaced are frequently denied their right to education, with higher education remaining a distant aspiration for most: less than 6% of refugees are enrolled in higher education.

Restricted opportunities for refugees and forcibly displaced people to complete primary and secondary education are one factor for the minimal continuation to higher education. Even with school completion in hand, other barriers to accessing higher education arise, whether the need to contribute financially to supporting family or limited capacity for the recognition of credentials or prior learning.

However, the education of refugees and forcibly displaced people is essential for peaceful and sustainable development, as well as for the future prosperity of refugees’ home countries. In times of social upheaval, the participation of refugee youth in host systems, especially in higher education, can provide the necessary tools for successful integration at individual and community levels. It can also develop mutual acceptance and tolerance, reducing participation in extremist activities, and aiding in the prevention of terrorism, racial and religious intolerance, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Further promoting the right to higher education for refugees and forcibly displaced people carries great costs but equally great returns, reinforcing the capacity to diversify student populations, create knowledge, and promote social and economic development in both the host country and the country of origin.

The following briefing note compendium reflects wide-ranging analysis and insights of the various barriers that refugees and forcibly displaced people experience in accessing, progressing, and completing higher education. At the same time, the briefing notes present considerations that States and other higher education stakeholders should take into account to defend and promote the right to higher education for this equity deserving group.

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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organziation (UNESCO)


Levels of Learning - Tertiary Education
Right to Education