Higher Education Webinar: Migration, Refugees, and Education
Rebecca Granato, associate vice president for global initiatives at Bard College and program director of the Open Society University Network’s Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives in Eastern Africa and the MENA region, leads the conversation on migration, refugees, and education.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Rebecca Granato with us to discuss migration, refugees, and education. Dr. Granato is associate vice president for global initiatives at Bard College, and program director for the Open Society University Network’s Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives in Eastern Africa and in the MENA region. She also serves as an associate at Bard College’s Institute for Writing and Thinking, and has developed and delivered teacher professional development in Myanmar, Jordan, and Kyrgyzstan, among other places. Her work focuses on contextualized, learner-centered experiences in undergraduate courses, teacher professional development, and research-oriented training in places affected by crisis and displacement for refugees, internally displaced people, and those in host communities.
So, Rebecca, thank you very much for being with us today. I thought we could begin with you sharing your insights on some of the barriers refugees and migrants face in higher education.
GRANATO: Thank you, Irina. And thank you to CFR for having me here today. I’m just going to share a few slides. And I’ll talk for just ten or twelve minutes to Irina’s question. Let me share my screen.
So what I thought I would do is give you some background on higher education in displacement context, including some of the barriers, challenges, successes, and goals. And I was also going to talk a little bit about the need for close collaboration across seemingly disparate actors in order to open opportunities for those affected by displacement.
So some of you may know this, but as of the month of May 2022, the number of forcibly displaced individuals across the globe crossed the 100 million mark. This is significant. I mean, this is the largest jump in displacement since World War II. And what this really means in real terms is that one in every seventy-eight people on Earth have actually been forced to flee. Nearly half of these individuals are youth. I think as many of us know, sustainable development goal number four demands that we ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. But we have a long way to go when it comes to full participation of refugees and exercising this right to a full educational experience.
That said, a lot of work has gone into awareness-raising of the barriers that this population faces, as well as into establishing and promoting global markers for success. Sone example of a really important marker out there is something that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established, a global goal called the 15by30 Roadmap, which sets a target of enrolling 15 percent of refugee youth into higher education by 2030. Which means about a half a million individuals. This would raise the numbers up to 15 percent from 5 percent, which is what we have today in terms of enrollments, which hovers around 90,000 refugees taking advantage of higher education opportunities.
In order to reach this goal, as this roadmap articulates, there are five education pathways that refugees can pursue. And the five are intended to ensure that refugees’ needs are met in different ways. Just like our needs when we want to go to university are also met in different ways. One would be national university enrollment in countries of first asylum. Another would be UNHCR tertiary scholarship programs, which could be in universities of—universities and countries of first asylum, or also in third countries. Connected higher education programs, which use online education and blended learning. Complementary education pathways for admission to third countries, which are third country scholarships that include a durable solution. And then TVET opportunities, technical and vocational education and training.
So through these five pathways is how UNHCR intends for the global community to help refugees actually move in greater numbers into higher education. The UN has also launched a campaign called Each One Take One. This was launched quite recently. And what it asks is that universities across the globe each take at least one refugee student onto their campus. So it’s a catchy tag. It won’t have a major impact on its own, but the goal of some of these catchy tags is really to help promote the idea of refugee inclusion in higher education. But in order to make this a reality, there are still a number of barriers that need to be overcome.
So I’m going to go back a little bit to some data that isn’t just focused on the tertiary education numbers. So we’ll look at a couple of global data points. All of these numbers are actually drawn from UNHCR’s Global Trends report, which they publish annually. And they collect data from across the globe, across many, many countries that host refugees. So when it comes to the number of youth who are actually eligible for higher education opportunities in refugee contexts, this chart, as you can see, does not tell a very promising story. Sixty-eight percent of refugees have access to primary education. This is compared to a global average of about 91 percent for primary school. So there’s a big gap there.
When it comes to secondary education, we’re looking at about 37 percent of refugees accessing secondary education, compared to a global average of about 84 percent. And then, of course, when we get to tertiary, which I’ll come back to, we’re looking at 5 to 6 percent, compared to a global average of about 37 percent. And as you can see here from this slide, the enrollment numbers drop off precipitously after primary education. And this happens for a number of reasons. It could be caretaking of younger siblings, wage-earning possibilities, a sense of hopelessness that education actually isn’t opening up opportunities, hearing from bigger brothers and sisters and others that a university education, while it might have been possible for a refugee, resulted in no additional livelihood opportunity within a camp setting. And for girls, of course, there are additional barriers—early marriage, safety concerns, cultural barriers.
Second, I would say that—and as indicated by this chart too—that the quality of K-12 education is often very poor in displacement contexts. Primary and secondary education for refugees is most frequently treated as an emergency response, so as a kind of temporary stopgap measure before the refugees are repatriated. But we also know that the average refugee status lasts around two decades, which is a number that extends far beyond the typical school years. So treating primary and secondary as an emergency response is actually—it’s very damaging. When education is treated like this, as a humanitarian issue, what partners end up doing is they end up setting up special schools in parallel systems.
So you can see here on the slide, I note three different ways in which emergency response education plays out at the K-12 level. Partially integrated systems, like what you have in a case like Jordan where students in some cases are in what are called second-shift schools. The refugees go in the afternoons. The host communities go during the day. Often there are less-qualified teachers teaching the afternoon. Jordan’s trying to move away from that, slowly, slowly. But it’s just an example.
A parallel system is like an example of what Kenya does, where all of the students in the K-12 system go through the Kenyan national curriculum, but the teachers are actually employed by NGOs. And they have no training, or virtually no training, and they also do not have the—they don’t have the Ministry of Education pay scale. So they’re treated like what we call incentive workers. They make about $110 a month.
And then we have the example of an informal system, which is probably the weakest of all. And an example of that is what we have in the Cox’s Bazar camps for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, where the students actually, up until recently, were completely blocked from attending any kind of formal school system. And they were attending four levels only of a curriculum that was designed by the British Council.
So very few host countries actually allow for inclusive educational opportunities in which refugee education is fully embedded into the host country education system. And an inclusive system would really mean that teacher quality, school infrastructure, financing, access to learning materials, and other resources are the same for all students, citizens, residents, and refugees alike. And of course, refugee students before they get to tertiary often need even more support beyond what is needed by the host community. They need assessment of prior learning when their certificates are not verifiable, when they’re coming from another country. They might need language learning and will certainly need psychosocial support.
So this is the—this is a major barrier leading up to the attempt to get more students into higher education. And even for those who do make it, and the numbers have slowly crept up, there are significant and often paralyzing barriers to actually accessing or being successful in these tertiary education environments. Language is one of them. Most refugees are displaced to countries in which the language of instruction is different from their own. And graduation from secondary school in that country of first asylum does not necessarily mean academic fluency, as many of these refugee contexts are in rote learning environments.
Even in places where refugees do speak the same language as their hosts, such as Syrians in Jordan, there are limited higher education opportunities for refugees in, for example, Jordan, in the country of first asylum. So in many cases, even if they make it through the secondary school system in their native language, they still have to learn another language to be competitive in a tertiary environment. There’s a major skills gap, especially when applying to university programs more so than TVET or some of the other certificates or diplomas. Between interrupted education and poor-quality opportunities in host countries, even the brightest youth often lack the necessary skills.
And this could be as simple as they don’t have the basic ICT skills to fill out a college application. They don’t have the ability to frame and promote themselves. They don’t have the confidence to do so. They don’t have the content knowledge to pass entrance exams, not to mention the more advanced skills like critical thinking and academic writing. Navigating the system is a major barrier. Lack of access to quality information on higher education opportunities and scholarships. Refugees often have to rely heavily on word of mouth, on social media, on WhatsApp groups, on NGOs and informal networks in order to know where they can get access to higher education. And most of them, even when they identify that opportunity, they don’t have the support in understanding the application procedures, the prerequisites, how to obtain study visas if they need them, or how to even arrange for recognition of prior learning.
And then finally, I mean, there’s the obvious one of limitation on numbers of scholarships and places for study. Opportunities in host communities are extremely limited. And this often has a very politicized aspect to it, you know, where refugees sometimes are treated as foreign students. Like in Jordan, where they have to pay foreign tuition. And then there’s the issue of the possibility of, say, complementary education pathways, where they go to a third country but many of the scholarships out there right now don’t have a durable solution attached to them. So a student may go to study in another country, but there’s no sustainable post-graduation option for them. And they risk being left in kind of an administrative limbo, which is a serious protection risk.
So as you can see, in spite of these many barriers the numbers have gone up over the past few years. Since the Global Refugee Forum in 2019, we have been able to move from 3 percent to 6 percent, which is not insignificant. But the goal of reaching 15 percent by 2030 is a lofty one, especially considering that almost 90 percent of the world’s refugee population is hosted by developing countries. So just to give a kind of comparative data point, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the enrollment rate of non-refugee youth in higher education across the region still hovers only around 9 percent. So if we’re trying to get to 15 percent with the refugee population, we also need to think about the host community. And this is another sort of political issue that comes up a lot.
So there are many different actors working in the field to address some of these barriers to reach the goal of 15by30. There are foundations providing significant funding for scholarships for displaced learners. MasterCard Foundation, Education Above All, some of which you might have heard of. There are regional actors working to open places for learners at national universities and countries of first asylum. I live in Kenya. I’m talking to you from Nairobi. We have a network here called the African Higher Education Network. And then there’s another network that works in Africa that is called the Men’s Network, that works primarily in francophone Africa. And they work on complementary education pathways. So there’s lots of actors doing lots of work.
And then there are networks that are working along multiple lines and with diverse actors, such as the network I work for. And I’m going to talk a little bit about what OSUN has done just for a couple of minutes, and what makes us unique in our ability to support the opening of higher education opportunities for refugees. So OSUN is a truly global network. We have representation on almost every continent. Partners are quite diverse, including higher education and research institutions. All of them are at various stages of their own institutional development, but all of them also share a set of similar values, including a commitment to open society and also to collaboratively addressing inequality.
Because we work horizontally across partners, we’re able to support new and continued educational access in both emergent and protracted crises. And it’s important to keep both emergent and protracted crises in mind. When we have, you know, the news inundating us with Ukraine and Afghanistan, there are many refugees who have been displaced for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years. So we do a lot of work as well through connected learning programs, also by supporting student movement to institutions across our network for the purposes of education. And, luckily, we also work in countries of first asylum, where we might be able to take students into national universities.
And when it comes to emergent crises, networks are a really important contributor. Not just OSUN, but all networks. In our case, we’re capable of mobilizing human and financial resources for really rapid response. And we’ve done this in three different—three very different contexts over the past nineteen months, with Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. For example, we were able to support over two hundred students from Afghanistan to continue their education after displacement. Still a drop in the bucket, though.
And by working across multiple partners, we’re also able to support students in the more protracted situations in Africa, the Middle East, and Bangladesh. In urban settings and in refugee camps, which are the places where I work. As Irina mentioned, I direct something called the OSUN Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives. And we have what’s called the Refugee Higher Education Access Program, which is a bridging program. It takes about fifteen to eighteen months and it’s really intended to prepare students to really be ready to go into any academic English-language university program.
Critical thinking, writing, analysis. All of these things they’re not getting in their very poorly equipped secondary schools. And some of the content knowledge upskilling that’s needed. So working within our network, these students are also eventually integrated into classrooms alongside matriculated students at campuses across the globe. And this has an added benefit for those students of humanizing the refugee student and exposing them—exposing the non-refugee matriculated students—to the very different perspectives that the refugees can bring.
So even these very diverse networks can only impact a finite number of students. But what they can do, and the reason I’m mentioning networks—and what OSUN is working hard to do—is really to create models that can be locally contextualized, and also replicable in other contexts and by other institutions. Likewise, I mentioned earlier UNHCR’s Each One Take One campaign. Again, a catchy little slogan, but once a university sets up a system for one student, it becomes much easier to take in many more. Universities realize it’s possible.
And in the context of the American system, there’s going to be the opening of a new refugee category—a visa category in the coming months, which some of your universities—if you’re dialing in from the States—might be involved in down the line. And the initial pilot will be asking universities to just take one or two students through a complementary pathway, with the intention that it would be scaled up over time.
So I guess one question is, why should we be putting so much emphasis on higher education for refugees? And, first, I would say there’s the moral imperative. Many of us who work for universities have social missions attached to our universities. And we try to emphasize this element, of course, with our institutions and also with other university actors. But beyond that, there are many other players who need to be convinced at this importance of this, particularly governments, state actors, people that we deal with a lot on the ground.
And we need to make a different argument there. The moral imperative does not hold weight for them. We need to show them that educating refugees is a good investment of human and financial resources. And as actors in the refugee education space, I believe we really need to think of higher education as an instrument that fosters growth, reduces poverty, and boosts shared prosperity, not only for the individual receiving the education but for the country in which the individual is residing.
We can clearly articulate the global gains of tertiary graduates, OK. So we have that data. And I’m sure many of you are familiar with this. For example, some of the World Bank data shows that tertiary education graduates—and not just refugees—experience a 17 percent increase in their earnings. In sub-Saharan Africa, which of course is hard hit by many refugee crises, it’s a 21 percent increase in earnings for tertiary education graduates. So in addition to wage-earning capacity, there’s data indicating that tertiary education graduates are more environmentally conscious, they have healthier habits, they have a higher level of civic participation.
So when refugees, if we expend that argument, are allowed to study and work in host—in third countries, they have the potential to contribute to societies and economies. So there needs to be a lot more data collection on this, in order to make a convincing case. But I’m going to give a couple of quick examples before I end, upon which we could base an argument for opening higher education opportunities and increasing potential earning power.
So when refugees travel to Canada for higher education through complementary pathways, they’re granted permanent residency upon arrival. The World University Service of Canada, WUSC, leads on this movement of refugee students between countries of first asylum and Canada. And they’ve been able to show that 90 percent of the refugees who were brought into their universities contribute to the economy as taxpayers within several months after graduation. They too need more data on actually what the numbers are.
In 2017, the U.S. government completed a study that looked at a period that’s now a little bit distant, they need to update this, but 2005 to 2014. And what they found is that while resettling refugees can cost thousands of dollars in the first couple of years, the tax contributions outweigh the cost. So during the period studied, the federal government spent approximately 206 billion on refugees. And yet, over that same period the refugees contributed more than 269 billion in tax revenue. So that’s a positive—net positive economic tax contribution of 63 billion. And then finally, if we’re looking beyond first-world countries, refugees often send remittances back to their country of origin. And one example is Liberia, which is a big refugee providing country. And about 18.5 percent of their GDP comes from remittances abroad.
So I’ll just conclude by saying that, there’s a couple of things that we need to—we need to do to promote further access. One is, we need to be thinking differently about how to prepare youth in the countries that—the countries of first asylum, before they get to the tertiary level. What’s happening now with the donor community, there’s a lot of investment in primary education. There’s a lot of attention on tertiary. And secondary is just being left out. Teachers are not trained. Students are just falling behind. And then we have this major drop off of ability before they can get to tertiary.
We also need to rethink refugee participation. Those of us who work on the ground, we think we’re always including refugee voices. We need to do a lot more on that. The refugees themselves are the experts in what their informal economies look like. So in many countries they can’t work legally, but they have informal economies. What do they really need to be studying? What skills do they need? We need to be tapping that. And UNHCR’s working on a kind of refugee-led mentoring program that might tackle some of this.
And then finally, the last point I would make is that we really need to create pathways and pipelines between different higher education institutions and programs. We need to include connected opportunities, scholarships in countries of first asylum, and also third-country opportunities so that students can move between degree possibilities, like any of us would, who want to get a higher education. So there needs to be options out there. So I think I’ll end there and turn it back to Irina.
FASKIANOS: That was fantastic. Thank you so much, Rebecca. And we’re going to turn to all of you now for your questions and comments. You can share what you’re doing and your thoughts.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
So the first question is from Patricia McCormick, who I think is at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, because she says she hopes you will reach out to her.
How are universities contacted to admit refugee services? Who pays for the housing and tuition of refugee students?
GRANATO: I think I had a moment of internet instability. Can you hear me, Irina?
FASKIANOS: I can hear you now, yes. So start at the top. Did you hear the question?
GRANATO: I think it’s the question that’s in the Q&A, how are universities contacted to admit refugee students?
FASKIANOS: It is.
GRANATO: OK. Sorry about that. Sometimes Kenya has unstable internet. If you can’t hear me, please let me know. Flag it.
FASKIANOS: I will.
GRANATO: So that’s a good question. Admitting refugee students. So in the U.S. right now there isn’t currently what we call a durable solution. That’s what’s being designed. In order for those of us who work in the field to responsibly send refugees to countries—to what we call third countries, there really needs to be a legal framework in place so that they can remain after. Once refugees leave camp settings, they’re often not allowed to go back. So what that means is they become not only stateless but they become campless. They’re statusless. They’re in this kind of administrative limbo, was the term I used earlier.
So when—the U.S. is currently designing this process that many of us are very involved in. And what will happen is a coalition of NGOs will reach out to universities and try to find interest in universities taking in students. The question, though, you had was about all the wraparound services, because many universities are often willing to forgive tuition. I know in OSUN we do that all time. But there are so many other costs associated with bringing a refugee student to another country. There’s the cost of the flight, the cost of the visa, the housing, the living stipend, all of that. So some of that’s going to be covered by the U.S. government during this pilot, but really what needs to be looked at is what a more sustainable mechanism is for this.
And there are different ways it’s done in different parts of the world. So in Canada, they use a—they use a community sponsorship model. So sometimes—well, they do two things. The community sponsorship model, and what’s called the student levy. I don’t think this would work in the U.S. But the student levy, there’s also money put on the tuition bill—like a dollar or two dollars—on every single tuition bill. And that money goes to cover refugee students at a given institution. And community sponsorship involves the community coming together and identifying pots of money that can be used for these wraparound services. And then, of course, universities need to also spend both human and financial resources on building out what’s needed in terms of the structures on campus to support these students, because there’s always legal advising, there’s psychosocial support, there’s all of the upskilling that might not have happened on the end when they’re being sent from their country of first asylum into the third country.
I hope that answers your question. But if institutions are interested, though, you should pay attention to what’s coming, because there will be a call for interest for universities to participate in this new refugee visa category pilot program. And you can also contact me. I’ll be—I’ll know what’s going on and be involved in some ways, too.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to a raised hand from Beth. And you’ll need to share your last name and your affiliation. If you can unmute yourself, that would be great, or accept the prompt.
Q: Can you hear me?
FASKIANOS: We can.
Q: OK, great. My name’s Elizabeth, I go by Beth, Bryant. I’m with Texas State Technical College.
I’m on a campus about twenty miles from the Texas-Mexico border. We specialize in associate degrees and technical training for occupations that are in demand in Texas, of course, since we’re such a big economy, and, you know, other places—wind technology, cybersecurity, nursing, education, things like that. I teach state and federal government. We’re all online now. Some of the technical courses have hybrid classes.
So my first question is, I know the definition in the dictionary of a refugee, but one of the things that we face here is just an influx of people from Mexico and Central and South America that are not necessarily fleeing war or famine. I think those folks, it’s easy to look at them as a refugee. What we have here are folks that are fleeing economic crises, societal unrest. I have two immigration lawyer friends who I used to help students whenever I can, and they’ve been very generous. One story is a guy got sent back to Honduras when he finally had his trial, was not granted asylum, and was killed two weeks later. So that’s what we’re dealing with here.
It’s like an administrative backlog and these people are fleeing difficulty, but it’s hard to get them classified as a refugee. And with the backlog, with the administrative courts that determine asylum, has people just sort of hanging out for two years, and then they make their way into the country and the best they can do is get a job washing dishes at a restaurant, or working at South Padre Island cleaning hotel rooms. So all these countries that you mentioned, it’s easy to see. But for us here on the border, we have a difficult time actually thinking of some of these immigrants—some of these immigrants as refugees.
So in order to access what OSUN is doing, how can—what are some of your thoughts on that? And then, just to follow that up, access to technology. Access to the computers. I have students that are trying to do their assignments on a smartphone because they don’t have a computer. We do have funds. We try to get them to those students to help them. These may be first-generation Americans or immigrants. So the technology, the digital divide, is really wide with this group.
And this is in our own country. This isn’t a first or second world issue. This is a—I mean, a second or third world issue. This is—this is right here in the United States. And it is a—it is a big problem, because we can’t get these folks to that next level because of the classification and because of the access to technology. So just—just some thoughts on how we could work with our administration, here at TSTC on that.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.
GRANATO: Those are big questions. They’re really big questions. I would say, what you pointed to, Beth, of this person who ended up being sent back to, I think it was Honduras you said, and killed, I mean, that’s exactly—when we’re thinking about more traditional refugee pathways, I think there’s also a consideration there that needs to apply to immigrants into the United States. I guess, illegal immigrants. I’m not sure I know the politically correct term for the U.S. right now. But that kind of unofficial immigration into the U.S., because asylum does take a long time, and often fails, and then it leaves people in, again, this kind of limbo where they end up having to go back to a place where it’s not safe. So having that legal framework planned out in advance before taking students into an institution is really—I think that’s just a—that’s an important starting point.
I think that was one of your points, but your other point is really about this technological gap. And I guess what I’m not sure I’m understanding, Beth, is, are these students—they’re enrolling in your university as fully matriculated students?
Q: Yes. Yes, they’re—I mean, TSTC has open enrollment. And, you know, I’ve taught DREAMers before, who came over here when they were babies because their mother was fleeing, you know, economic insecurity, et cetera. And then I have, you know, people who have—who have migrated. It’s not hard to do. And we take them. And we try to get them into an English as a second language course, et cetera. But it’s—now that so much—even if my courses weren’t online, you still have to have a computer to complete higher education. I mean, period. It’s one of the things that I noticed. I mean, when I tell my students I had to type all my research papers on a typewriter, it freaks them out, you know?
And so there are funds available, since we’re a state institution. We’re state-funded. The state of Texas funds us. So we do have access to funds to try to get the computers to those that need them. But it’s coming out of hiding, interacting with the government. A lot of my students won’t apply for the funds because they’re scared. And they’re bright people. Mexico has a pretty good secondary education system. So do you see that as an issue with the people that you deal with? And how do you—
FASKIANOS: And then we’ll—if you could take a crack at that, and then we have several other questions. We’ll move on.
GRANATO: One of the—one of the things we do, though, is we really work with our faculty on adjusting assignments so that the assignments work in these lower-resource settings, so that students don’t have to have a computer. There actually is quite a bit that students can’t do on their phones. And students—we find that our students, who are very used to not having access to technology, are very adept at being creative in how they’re going to get some of these assignments done. They often handwrite them, and then they’ll type them up in WhatsApp, you know. But we do a lot of faculty work around how to kind of adjust content so that it works in the environment, because you can’t—we simply can’t provide a computer for every student. That would be an unsustainable model. So faculty development is one way we grapple with it. And then upskilling the students so that they know how to kind of adjust and how to be flexible.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to next to a written question from Dr. Damian Odunze. Does the refugee education program include internally displaced persons, especially in countries in East and West Africa? Is there a collaboration between your organization and local communities? And Dr. Odunze’s with Delta State University in Cleveland, Missouri.
GRANATO: Thanks, Dr. Damian. So, yes, we do—we do work with internally displaced students, and many other programs in the region do as well. I would say that, in terms—when you ask about collaboration with local institutions, we—at least from the perspective of OSUN. I can speak from OSUN’s perspective. We attempt to collaborate with local universities here. And there’s a lot less flexibility with local institutions, say in Kenya, in terms of the ways in which refugees are credentialed, the ways in which their qualifications are kind of framed, than there would be with, say, an online program in the United States or even a third-country pathway. There’s often just more flexibility with foreign institutions.
So we try to work on opening opportunities for students here with local institutions, but the other ways in which we work with local institutions is we do a lot of work with refugee-led organizations. And those refugee-led organizations work with us on developing the contextualized programming. It also builds their capacity. So some of our attempt at local work is also just with sort of organizations that have been developed by the refugees themselves, which are also educationally oriented, but not higher education institutions.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And just to correct myself, Delta State University is in Cleveland, Mississippi. My apologies.
So I’m going to go next to Candace Laughinghouse.
Q: Good afternoon. Well, first, thank you for this presentation. It’s really opened my eyes to a lot. I teach at a HBCU, St. Augustine’s University. And we have students—it’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. We have a lot of international students I was unaware of until I joined the faculty. And a lot of that is through the Episcopal Church. Because the school is an Episcopal University. But I just had some questions. And I’m wondering, in our attempts to provide education to students—I’m going to do some research further myself—I was just wondering, also as a—probably because as—(inaudible)—and the importance of listening to our language as instructors—because I actually have to engage in this with some professors in addressing our larger student population of African American students—is, I guess, educating our language and how we’re creating a community to transform.
It reminds me of a book by bell hooks called Teaching to Transgress. And a lot of that—and what I’m hearing some of the questions, and some of the things I know, things are sometimes kind of intention or not being aware of addressing certain things. But how does it impact a student’s learning? Because we often feel that the desire to learn just makes us all equal. These students want to come learn, but then even when I just use the language these students, like, you know, what does it—how does it impact our ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn at whatever level, when they are pretty much labeled and categorized in the different areas I’ve heard? Like, you’re an immigrant. You’re a DREAMer. You’re a—you know?
That definitely has an impact, even when—I have three small children. And one went through some troubles because of COVID. And they’re even in private school. So the learning development for my youngest was a challenge. But even then, at a private institution, I had to address how she was then being labeled immediately by performance or labeled by even from where she comes from. So I was wondering, has there been any sort of investment or consideration of this type of thing? Because that does—wouldn’t you agree that that would impact, one, a teacher’s ability to teach at a certain level, and also a student’s connection with receiving the education, if you have these labels that are, like, these folks, those people, these refugees, do they deserve this?
Instead of, these are young adults experiencing refugee status. These are young adults—because then it reclaims the humanity of them. Just like my girls know, I’m African American, our ancestors were not slaves. They were enslaved. Because we are aware now of what that denotes when you place labels. So I was wondering, has there been any sort of inquiry into that? Because I really believe that that could be a strong—there could be a correlation to the outcome of these programs as well, and how we are addressing the students. Because it kind of places a barrier between us and these young adults.
GRANATO: I think it’s a really excellent question. And, again, an area that needs more research, especially when we’re talking about integrating displaced learners into—primarily into environments where the majority of students are not displaced. So a student going to your university, for example, there by necessity needs to be an awareness of the context of where this person came from, at least among the staff, administrators, and faculty, because they will bring with them—they will bring with them a certain experience that needs attention. Definitely trauma that might or might not need attention, but legal questions that will need attention. So that has to be—there has to be awareness.
But the question of how they are perceived by their classmates and the ways in which they kind of categorize themselves, I mean, I certainly can’t speak for the refugee population. But I’ve heard a number of our students speak to when they go to third countries and they enroll in universities, where they’re not surrounded by their compatriots in the same way. And they don’t want to identify as refugees. They don’t want to be labeled that way. They want to be identified as students. Now, what kind of psychological studies have been done on that, I think that’s an area that’s somewhat under-researched still. But there’s—I think there’s a difference between awareness and labeling too. And that awareness is critical in these university settings, where these students are going to come with a very different set of needs and requirements.
Q: OK. So I guess—I guess my only question is—and you’re seeing what I’m saying about research. So is that something separate from what you’re doing? That cannot be integrated into the praxis in what your—and the pedagogy in which you’re—which you brilliantly presented earlier? Because I’m saying that that is a huge impact. Because we can have all the tools to say, hey, this can work, and this can work, and this can work. But something like that, in its—you know, it has a huge impact. And I’m not just speaking for the students, because the students, yeah, they bring their own things. But I’m talking about—I’m speaking as an educator. And as educators, how that can be perhaps—or, not perhaps—how that should be included in faculty around what you’re addressing. But thank you for letting me ask the question.
GRANATO: Yeah. And I mean, I think you’re absolutely right. And, the work that we do with students in the bridging program, again, this is my example from the context I work in, we do a lot of work, you know, you mentioned bell hooks. We do a lot of work in trying to get the students to think – to think about content and ideas outside of their own contexts. And yet, they’re very much in their context there. And the label in a camp is important to them. They use it. You know, in their camp setting, it becomes a tool. But that’s very different when they’re then removed from that kind of majority area, where everybody is the same as them. So, no, I mean, you’re raising a really important question, and one that needs to be thought of, especially in third countries.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Sana Tayyen, who’s at the University of Redlands in California.
When developed countries, like Sweden and Germany, accept refugees, do they usually have an agenda as to the types of jobs and pathways they want refugees to end up in? Not 100 percent sure on this, but I’ve heard of Syrian refugees being brought into Sweden to fill service jobs for an aging population. Will higher education cater to government agendas?
GRANATO: It’s a good question. So the path—this question is really about what we would call third country pathways, where refugees are moved from a country of first asylum to a third country for the purposes of higher education. I think that’s what you’re asking, Sana. You know, in the programs that we work with, as OSUN but also OSUN co-chairs what is called the Global Taskforce on Third Country Higher Education Pathways, we work with institutions and governments that don’t have that agenda. Promoting an agenda like that, that refugees should be coming in to fill a particular service, undermines the purpose of higher education and the mission of a higher education opening up possibility.
So if you look at Germany, higher education pathways, students can come in and they can study—they can study anything at an institution that they’re accepted to. They have to be accepted to the institution. In France, it’s the same. There are many different options that the students can choose from in terms of majors. The important part is that they have the ability to work after, and that their ability to work—that their work permit allows them to work across sectors. So those are the pathways that are under development. And those are the ones that we, for example, support. I’m not—I don’t know about that case you’re referring to in Sweden. I can’t really speak to that because I’m not sure. But I can’t imagine that’s 100 percent accurate, but I will look that up.
FASKIANOS: Great. So next question from Ellen Chesler.
Can you speak in more detail about OSUN’s program for Afghan refugee students at Bard College in the U.S. and the American University of Central Asia in Tashkent? And how are these programs going?
GRANATO: So Bard took in—Bard, and our partner, American University of Central Asia, took in a number of students, it’s around two hundred, into BA and MA programs. The number will go up. There will be another intake. The program is partially—the scholarships are partially funded by Bard itself. You know, we do tuition remission. AUCA does tuition remission. There’s donors that contribute. I guess how is it going? It’s been a heavy lift. You know, it’s very different from bringing in international students. And international students, they’re already quite complicated to bring into a university setting, as you all well know.
But bringing in the Afghan students into America was particularly complicated because we don’t yet have this refugee visa category. So the students came in through referrals, the P4 process—sorry—the P3 process. But many of them came in on student visas. And student visas are not a sustainable mechanism. They only last for the duration of the degree. So now what Bard is trying to do is figure out what’s next for these students. And we’re having to do it on a case-by-case basis. You know, figuring out what’s going to happen to them after, what kind of legal status they’re going to have. Are they going to claim asylum and be stuck in that system, and not be able to work? Are they going to be able to transition to some kind of residency?
And this is all because this special refugee visa category does not exist yet. Next year, hopefully, it will be a very different scenario. At the American University if Central Asia, it’s also had a different set of struggles. I know that the university there has struggled with a lot of—a lot of trauma. I mean, there’s been a lot of psychosocial issues that have come up, and a lot of issues with students attending classes, because they’re really struggling. And the university—Bard and AUCA, you know, it’s a bit lift to equip your staff with the extra skills they need to deal with this, and the extra staffing you need. I mean, you need more people. And it happened so quickly that I feel like there’s been kind of a catch up.
So I think—I hope that answers your question. I’m not sure if your question was how is it going was a different one, but I hope that answers it.
FASKIANOS: Great. So we have two more questions I’d love to get in, from Dr. Adegbola Ojo, who’s at the University of Leeds in the UK.
Apart from financial remittances, is there evidence of other forms of positives, e.g., brain gain, in home countries resulting in the human capital flight of refugees?
GRANATO: When you say “home countries,” do you mean their countries of origin, or do you mean the countries they are going to becoming their home countries.
FASKIANOS: Right. I’m not sure. Dr. Ojo, do you want to unmute and clarify? Because I read exactly what was in the question. (Laughs.)
Q: Yes. Yes, thank you very much.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much.
Q: Yeah, yeah. It’s countries of origin.
GRANATO: Countries of origin.
GRANATO: That’s a good question. And, again, it’s an understudied area. The number—you know, an understudied area of people who have gone and sought an education, gone from a third country—sorry—a country of first asylum, to a third country for education, who have then gone back. I don’t actually know the exact numbers. I don’t know what the exact numbers are of people who might have gotten a university education—say, in the UK—and then they return to their country of origin. I imagine it’s quite small. So I don’t—and there aren’t studies on that particular question.
When it comes to brain gain, of course, most refugees who leave, say, a camp-based setting, they don’t—the vast majority do not go back to the camp. Most of them can’t. In Kenya, you can return to a camp. In a place like Cox’s Bazar you wouldn’t be able to. In a place like Rwanda, you could. So it’s different in every—in every place. In Jordan, you wouldn’t be able to return. So it would also be difficult to track if people return what kind of impact it would have because most of them actually don’t. Most of them remain in the country that they go to educate—to be educated. But it would be interesting to look at the numbers that return to their countries of origin, and what that net brain gain is. I think it’s a really good question. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer.
Q: Well, thank you. I do think that that would be a knowledge gap there, and potentially area for further research. Yeah, something to think about.
GRANATO: It’s a good research question, yeah.
Q: Thank you.
GRANATO: What I can say—although, maybe there’s another question. I was going to add something, but maybe—
FASKIANOS: No. No, go ahead. Just have a—go ahead.
GRANATO: OK. I was just going to say, it’s a little different from your question about brain gain, but there have been some recent studies on refugees who don’t leave the camp but get an education, and have a degree, and then actually have really no very pronounced livelihood opportunity that’s connected to their degree. And some of those studies have looked about the increase in things like depression and anxiety. And the sort of negative impacts of higher education, when then there’s no livelihood opportunity that really is connected to the degree itself. So I know it’s different from your question, but just it made me think of it.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. So we’ll take the final question from Sneha Bharadwaj, who’s a professor at Texas Woman’s University. How can we get involved in this mission? So that’s a good question to end on, on what administrators and educators can do in their own institutions.
GRANATO: So I think there’s a couple of things. First, I’ve already mentioned a few times that there will be this initiative in the U.S., and of course, Texas Woman’s University would be an institution that could participate in this, with this new refugee visa category and taking students in from countries of first asylum. But that’s going to still be a very small number. I mean, the vast majority of refugees will not be traveling for third-country opportunities. The vast majority will need to be educated in their country of first asylum.
And, you know, offering online opportunities for students is always something that refugees are interested in, in camp-based settings. We find that online opportunities really only work if there’s also some infrastructure on the ground to support them. Very remote instruction, often, there’s just major attrition. But if you have online offerings, you could come together with other partners, you could think about ways that you could offer some kind of online degree, if that’s something that your institution is accredited for. Again, getting back to this network idea. Networks of institutions can do that collaboratively, so it’s not as much of a heavy lift.
There’s always opportunities as well, and need, in refugee settings for additional research to be done, and for collaboration on things like faculty development inside camp settings, and training of teaching assistants. Those are also areas where there’s quite a bit of need.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Well, we are at the end of our time. So I thank you for taking your evening—giving your evening to us, Rebecca. You are in Nairobi, so it’s late there. And to all of you for being with us, and for your questions and comments. We really appreciate it.
GRANATO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
FASKIANOS: You can follow Rebecca Granato on Twitter at @rebecca_granato. And you will receive an invitation to our next Higher Education Webinar shortly. But in the meantime, I encourage you to follow us at @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues. Thank you, again, for joining us today. And we look forward to your continued participation in the Higher Education Webinar Series.