There is little question that post-secondary education has the potential of giving greater voice to displaced populations; creating an educated segment of society that can return and rebuild local, regional, and national institutions should refugees have the chance to repatriate; contribute to personal growth, social development, and knowledge creation, application and dissemination. The 1951 Refugee Convention recognizes the fundamental rights of refugees to access education, earn a livelihood, and seek justice when wronged (UNHCR 2002). Smith (2004) states that since the enactment of the Convention, more than two-thirds of the refugees in the world are denied such basic human rights (Smith 2004:38).

In the past, education has received very little attention in refugee situations, taking a back seat to life-saving interventions of food, shelter, and health. A new focus on education in refugee contexts is becoming apparent. For example the 2010 annual report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education is focused on the right to education of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. The UN High Commissioner for refugees also identified the importance of making tertiary education accessible to refugees in long term situations during a dialogue on protection challenges held in Geneva on December 2008. Higher education opportunities were discussed as vital supports for all durable solutions (i.e. voluntary repatriation to the home country; local integration in the country of asylum; resettlement to a third country). In January 2009, the Refugee Research Network (housed at CRS, York University), Carleton University’s Faculty of Public Affairs and the Ottawa Migration and Refugee Research Network hosted a Roundtable on Protracted Refugee Situations for academics, NGOs and federal policy-makers. Tertiary education for long-term refugees was one of the eight themes identified for further attention at that meeting. This research cluster is a response to that directive and will contribute to the UNHCR’s current revisioning of its education strategy.

In response to a growing awareness to the call for tertiary education for forced migrants and refugees, the RRN has established a Tertiary Education for Refugees research Cluster within the RRN.  This research cluster focuses on probing the types of education needed in various sites and exploring ways to work in partnership with existing and potential suppliers of education. The goal of this cluster is to promote exchanges and discussions on tertiary education for force migrants who have either been unable to complete or to initiate their education due to a lack of opportunities in countries of refuge. Currently, this research cluster has 3 objectives:

  1. to further our understanding of the impact that the absence of tertiary education has had on long-term refugees in the global south;
  2. to consider possibilities/opportunities for the future provision of tertiary education to refugees in the global south;
  3. and to identify the potential role of Canadian institutions in the provision of tertiary education to refugees in the global south.

This research cluster will also be supported by a two day Workshop sponsored by CRS and York University, and held on April 9th-10th 2010. This workshop will bring together 30 interdisciplinary researchers, academics, graduate students, and practitioners from across Canada and internationally, who are committed to issues of tertiary education for refugees.

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