UNHCR celebrates DAFI’s 30 years of refugee scholarship support, calling for more investment in education


Najwa, a 25-year-old Sudanese refugee living in Egypt, works as a trainee lab technician after completing a biochemistry degree at Cairo University thanks to a DAFI scholarship. © UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

Geneva – For the last 30 years, the German-backed DAFI scholarship programme has helped transform the lives and prospects of numerous young displaced people, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today as it urged more investment in access to higher education for refugees to help realise their potential.

The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) scholarship programme has transformed over 21,500 refugee students’ lives around the world, with most in recent years from the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia. They are majoring in fields from medicine to business administration, social and behavioural sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, among other subjects.

“Over three decades, DAFI has been transformative, providing opportunity and hope to thousands of refugee students, enabling them to fulfill their potential, and change their lives for the better,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “It’s a proven model that must be scaled up to help ensure we reach our ’15by30′ goal – to get 15 percent of refugees in tertiary education by 2030!”

In its 2021 DAFI report, ‘Higher Education: Now is the Time’, UNHCR warns of widening disparity in both education quality and access between high- and low-income countries, where most refugees are hosted. Uneven re-openings of schools following the COVID-19 pandemic heightened the risk of reversing hard-won gains.

By the end of 2021, over 8,300 young refugees from 53 countries were enrolled in DAFI scholarships in 55 countries, an impressive leap from the nearly 1,000 students in the 2020 cohort. Female students represented 41 per cent of the total, and achieving gender parity remains a core aim of the programme.

Nearly half of the students were studying in Ethiopia, Türkiye, Pakistan, Kenya and the Islamic Republic of Iran, countries that host some of the largest refugee populations worldwide.

Last year drew record applications of more than 15,800, reflecting increased demand and greater need for investment in higher education scholarships and opportunities for refugees.

Still, refugee enrolment in higher education stands at only 6 percent, although this continues an upward trend from a mere 1 percent only a few years ago.

“Opportunities like the DAFI scholarship are nothing short of a miracle,” said a previous recipient, Khatira, a finance officer working in Pakistan. She also highlighted the broader barriers to refugees accessing higher education, which can turn their lives. “Due to host community restrictions, severe financial barriers, the lack of opportunities for employment, language barriers, and other factors, access to higher education for a refugee can seem impossible.”

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