UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has launched a platform providing reliable information on higher education programmes available to refugees world-wide.
The Opportunities portal centralizes all information regarding scholarship programmes in current countries of asylum, but also abroad. Only three percent of refugees have access to higher education, and the portal was created to try and fill the gap. Refugees can access verified information about programmes designed for refugees and scholarships, and match their competences, ideal language of study, and career aspirations to opportunities to further their education.
Ashifa Zakariya, a 25-year-old woman from Nigeria, was forced to flee due to violence in her country and arrived in November 2016 at the Minawao camp in Cameroon. She was able to enrol in a higher education programme thanks to a DAFI scholarship.
Ashifa now dreams of being an international expert in the field of logistics and transport. For this, she would like to get another scholarship that will allow her to continue her studies in the United States or in Canada. We asked her to share her experience, about what it was like to have access to higher education, and how the portal could further benefit refugees. She believes sharing reliable information about education opportunities on the portal will encourage more refugees to apply.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you studied and where?
I attended primary and secondary school in my country, Nigeria. After my arrival in Cameroon, I was admitted to the DAFI scholarship programme in 2017. I thus enrolled in the first year of Management at the Bon Berger University Institute in Yaounde. After obtaining my HND (Higher National Diploma), I continued with logistics and transport management at another private university in Yaounde (Lead Higher Institute). I am finishing with my end-of-training internship and I will have to defend my Bachelor’s degree in December 2020.
What was the highlight of your time in higher education?
I really enjoyed studying here in Cameroon because during the classes and in the community, there was no discrimination between refugees and nationals, which makes me feel like I was home.
In class, I enjoy doing exposés, which make me improve my English and how to talk in public. I also loved meeting my classmates and friends, with whom I can share ideas, assignments, etc.
What difference has higher education made to your life?
It has improved my quality of life because the more you know, the more you are able to apply your knowledge in your daily life. I ended up noticing that the knowledge acquired at the higher level becomes more practical and prepares better for the job search. It has also positively impacted my social life because I can now interact with all classes and age groups with respect to my field of study. I have also noticed how important transport is in today's world.
What challenges did you face in accessing higher education?
I first tried to adapt to the diversity of the education system in Cameroon, including the new study plan. It was difficult to adapt to a new education system as I was used to the Nigerian system. The evening classes (which took place at the HDN) were particularly difficult, because before that, I had never studied at night and I found them noisy and tiring.
What difference could the UNHCR Opportunities portal make to refugees seeking higher education?
Young refugee who receive higher education can benefit from a more satisfying family and work life and a greater sense of participation in community affairs. This Opportunities portal could help refugees access higher education by providing them with opportunities they would not otherwise have known about.
The Opportunities portal aims to support the Global Compact on Refugees’ objectives of expanding third country solutions for refugees and alleviating some of the pressures on hosting countries. UNHCR and partners aim to ensure that 15 percent of young refugee women and men can access the benefits of higher education by the year 2030 (#15by30). The portal covers about 20 programmes offered in over 60 countries, and the services provided and programmes are always verified independently by UNHCR. Find out more about the portal here.