DAFI Scholarship Programme – Opening Higher Education to Refugees 

DAFI Scholarship Programme – Opening Higher Education to Refugees 

Contact details 

Submitted by: 

Felix Kolbitz, Policy Officer, Federal Foreign Office, Germany 

Maren Kroeger, Tertiary Education Officer, UNHCR 


[email protected]  

[email protected] 

Website: https://www.unhcr.org/dafi-scholarships.html  

DAFI Annual Report 2018 available here 


Twitter: @UNHCR_Education; @AA_Kultur 

Facebook: facebook.com/DAFI.UNHCR  

Introduction to the project 


Global Programme - 51 Hosting Countries in the Global South 


Since 1992 


UNHCR awards undergraduate scholarships to refugee youth who meet the DAFI programme selection criteria. The scholarship, which applies to refugee youth in their first country of asylum, includes context-specific support structures and preparation for economic inclusion. 

Project aims 

The goal of the DAFI Programme (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) is to support young refugee women and men who possess a secondary education diploma to pursue higher education in their first country of asylum. With the qualifications they acquire, they can build a more secure future for themselves and their families, make informed life choices and contribute to the peaceful development of their host country or country of origin.  

The six strategic objectives of the programme are to:  

1.Promote self-reliance and pathways to solutions resulting from the completion of undergraduate qualification. 

2.Empower young women and men equally to contribute knowledge, skills and leadership to their communities, and to participate fully in peaceful coexistence, social cohesion and the development of the communities where they live.  

3.Strengthen the protective impact of education by encouraging lifelong learning for refugees. 

4.Provide role models for refugee children and youth, by demonstrating the positive impact of education on individuals, communities and societies. 

5.Contribute to post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction in the event that refugees return to their home countries.  

6.Promote social, economic and gender equality. 

Resources used 

The three core factors for success and a continuously growing program that has made a difference for more than 25 years are:

- Dedicated, continuously growing donor support: The German government has been the core donor from the inception of the programme and still contributes 90% of the total programme budget. With the provision of funds, the German government was supportive and flexible to adapt the programme to the needs of students and refugee situations. In this way, the DAFI programme was one education programme that has lasted for many generations of refugees and even contributed to motivating secondary school children to study hard to apply for a scholarship. DAFI students and alumni helped to anchor the programme in refugee communities. 

- More and more funding partners: Additional contributions helped meet the growing demand for higher education opportunities from Syrian refugees, as well for refugees originating from Afghanistan and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Saïd, Asfari, and Hands Up for Syria Foundations and other private donors contribute 10% of the total programme budget. This helps to grow the programme and respond to specific situations. 

- Context specific: The DAFI programme is a global programme, managed at UNHCR Headquarters. UNHCR country offices together with local NGOs plan and implement the programme at the country level – adapting e.g., the selection (regarding the number of scholarships and female applicants), support, partnerships with Ministries of Education and higher education institutions. 


  • The German Government 
  • Said Foundation 
  • Asfari Foundation 
  • Hands Up Foundation 
  • NC Soft Korea,  
  • Korean Philanthropists 
  • SAP USA 
  • USA for UNHCR 
  • German UNO Flüchtlingshilfe 
  • UNHCR 
  • In 2018, 28 partners supported UNHCR on implementing the DAFI Programme (see page 62-63 here) 

Challenges and how they were overcome 

  •  Students dropping out: Over the years, national DAFI programme selection processes and individual and group support for students have helped students to succeed in their studies through language courses, PSS, academic prep and bridging courses. DAFI Clubs have supported the self-organisation, engagement and peer-to-peer support of the scholarship holders, as well as their exchange with DAFI alumni for networking. Additionally, collaboration and partnerships with the higher education institutions where DAFI students are enrolled has improved and allowed for close monitoring of their performance. 
  •  Lack of preparation for economic inclusion: It is a crucial motivating factor for students to know that there are opportunities after graduation and that they are prepared to compete for them. UNHCR and implementing partners have established networks and partnerships to support traineeships, internships, mentorship and training for DAFI graduates.  
  •  Announcement of scholarship numbers tied to one-year funding cycles: The need for scholarships is increasing with more refugees qualifying for higher education by completing upper secondary education and due to persisting displacement crises. In response, the German government has continued to ensure increasing funding and also aims to attract new donors to fund the programme. Through improved collaboration and communication between UNHCR and the German government scholarship numbers can now be announced earlier in the year. 
  •  Lack of support from Ministries of Education: UNHCR and implementing partners have increasingly worked with the Ministries of Education, including them in the selection of DAFI students and meeting them regularly for updates on inclusion in public higher education institutions. This helped promote refugee inclusion and address irregularities in the process of enrolment and tuition fees.  
  •  Lack of awareness on the critical importance of, and lack of,  access to higher education for refugees: UNHCR, with support from the German government, has considerably improved the visibility of the DAFI programme by presenting its model of protection and education inclusion at conferences, workshops and meetings. Our experiences and knowledge are being shared widely to ensure consistent standards and guidance for refugee scholarship programmes in higher education. 

Results of the Good Practice 

  • Since its inception in 1992, over 15,500 young refugee women and men have received and studied with a DAFI scholarship. 
  • The DAFI programme has provided global leadership in higher education, scholarships for refugees, and their inclusion in quality national education systems. This is evident in the many partnerships and collaborations that have been established. 



Next steps 

  • In 2019/2020 the DAFI programme will be expanded: UNHCR aims to increase the number of scholarships to help more than 8,000 refugees access higher education (in 2018 it was 6,866). The DAFI programme will be newly implemented in Mexico, Afghanistan and Somalia, in response to new displacement and return situations. 
  • The German government actively looks for and promotes opportunities to join hands with other bilateral partners to increase the number of scholarships and the refugee enrolment rate in higher education by 2030.