Scholarship programmes for refugee students are similar to scholarship programmes for non-refugee students, with some additional considerations pertaining to the specific protection aspects that affect some refugees.
When setting up a scholarship programme for refugees, please consider the guidance below to ensure your programme reflects the protection needs of refugee students. If you need further advice on refugee higher education programmes please contact us
As a potential or active scholarship provider, whether from a government, institution or the private sector, there are a number of considerations that can help to ensure the scholarship programme anticipates and addresses the protection needs some refugees face.
UNHCR recommends scholarship programmes that meet the following basic requirements:
- Non-discrimination/equitable access– Scholarship eligibility is fair and impartial. Applicants are not disadvantaged based on religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or other characteristics.
- Provide access to functioning asylum procedures and protection from refoulement– Refugee students should not find themselves in a situation of forced return or statelessness once their studies are completed due to expired residency permits, lack of access to asylum procedures or inability to support themselves.
- Offered by a nationally accredited institution – Scholarship programme must be offered by a recognized academic institution and result in a widely-recognized and transferable degree or certificate.
- Adhere to data protection principles – Providers refrain from the use or sharing of personal data with any external party or used for any purpose other than the identification and selection of student participants, unless permission has been granted by the refugee student.
In addition, there are two different ways in which you can offer scholarships to refugees:
- Scholarships can be offered at institutions in the country where refugees have been granted asylum
- Scholarships can be offered that assist refugees to undertake tertiary studies in a country other than the one where they have been granted asylum.
- Ensure that participation in the education programme does not jeopardize the legal status or negatively affect the protection space for refugees in the country.
- Reach out to students in secondary level education and inform them about scholarship opportunities. The prospect of higher education opportunities fosters retention at primary and secondary level (explain this more).
- Negotiate availability of places in academic institutions in host countries with Ministries of Education and other competent bodies to ensure host country agreement and support, and so as not to overload host institution capacity.
- Check if accreditation and programme equivalency recognition are arranged with the authorities of the host country to ensure that students obtain a widely recognized and transferrable degree upon completion.
- Advocate for documentation requirements for admission to the programme to be lowered or lifted to avoid putting at risk candidates whose documentation may not be readily accessible.
- Engage with existing coordination mechanisms on (higher) education for refugee students.
- Anticipate the need to provide financial support to families of students that are found to be socio-economically vulnerable or where students’ enrolment in a full-time university course will impact family stability.
- Manage expectations to minimize possible tensions within the refugee community, or with humanitarian/development actors, over the limited places available.
A helpful reference are UNHCR’s DAFI policy and guidelines.
- What legal status will students have in country of study? What limitations apply?
- Should a refugee student decide to apply for asylum in the country of study, will this affect their student status and related benefits? What support will students need with visa and travel documents?
- What happens if a student fails or drops out for any reason?
- What mentoring, academic or psycho-social support is provided?
- Is the student able/allowed to obtain (additional) qualifications required for the completion of studies (e.g. internships)?
- What options for employment in the country of study are available upon graduation?
- May family members accompany the refugee student? What is their legal status and how is their income ensured?
- What legal and administrative preparations will be necessary for the students’ return to their country of asylum or their country of origin, if it is possible to return?
- What safeguards are in place to mitigate protection risks, such as forced returns due to cessation of legal status, lack of required documentation, or other legal/ administrative obstacles?
Scholarship programmes for refugees in the MENA region must anticipate and plan for the fact that in most cases refugees are not permitted to re-enter the country of asylum once they have departed, even if they plan to leave for a temporary period of study. In light of the prohibition on return to the country of asylum, refugee students must have means to ensure their legal status and ability to support themselves once the period of study has ended. The impact of prolonged separation from family and options for family reunification should also be taken into consideration.
UNHCR country offices can often assist in advertising scholarship programmes and identifying refugee applicants for programmes that meet the above factors. UNHCR can also assist potential or active scholarship providers in developing programmes that adequately anticipate the range of issues refugee students may face during application, selection, departure, study and post-graduation periods. The range of questions outlined below should be addressed prior to announcing or implementing a scholarship programme. Please contact UNHCR for assistance with any of these issues.
Please consult our Higher Education Considerations for Refugees in Countries Affected by the Syria and Iraq Crises for more information. The document is a general good reference for Higher Education Considerations beyond the MENA region.
Designing a scholarship
- Who is the target population?
- What is the target age range?
- What are the minimum education requirements to participate?
- What is the timeline for advertisement, application, selection and departure? Do you have resources in place to carry out each of these phases? If not, what additional support is needed?
- Is the programme inclusive and non-discriminatory in all respects?
- Does the programme support the participation of women/girls in equal proportion to men/boys?
- Does the programme support candidates with special circumstances, such as students with interrupted education, students without proof of education certification, or students who wish to transfer academic credits from a previously attended higher education institution?
- Will the initiative be focused on study exclusively, or linked to resettlement, temporary asylum, or family reunification options?
- As scholarship initiatives may raise expectations among refugees about durable solutions including resettlement, how will these initiatives help manage these expectations?
- Is there any aspect of the programme that could affect social cohesion, lead to other negative consequences or be perceived to be discriminatory?
- What is the desired impact of the scholarship initiative on the participants, as well as on their families and communities?
- Does the programme intend to contribute to post-conflict reconstruction, social cohesion and peace building processes in the participants’ asylum communities and countries of origin?
- Will the initiative ensure adequate certification upon completion of studies?
- Does the initiative take into account potential language barriers of students who otherwise qualify, for example in the form of language support courses?
- What specific measures are implemented as part of the selection process to ensure transparency and inclusiveness in line with the considerations outlined above?
- In cases where the scholarship does not provide full financial support, how will students be guided or facilitated in covering all direct study costs (registration and tuition fees), indirect study costs (e.g. books, supplies, research and other expenses) and cost of living without affecting their academic performance?
- Does the scholarship initiative include options for short-term diploma studies, such as a preparatory year needed to qualify for a degree programme?
- Who is the focal person in your organization responsible for coordination and communication at all stages of the programme?
- What support will be in place for the students to plan beyond their studies including career counselling and guidance?
- What learning or experiential opportunities will be available to the students during academic/ semester breaks
For an example of comprehensive third country scholarship design, please refer to:
Share your scholarship opportunity
UNHCR welcomes higher education institutions, NGOs, civil society partners, governments and other actors to share information related to higher education and scholarship opportunities by submitting this form.
The information provided will be reviewed and verified by UNHCR before posting it on the site.