Improving the Participation of Syrian Refugees in Education through Online Study Courses

Flexible learning pathways, such as online education, offer substantial promise for development cooperation initiatives as they can improve access to higher education for vulnerable populations who are not able to attend in-person, scheduled classes. However, online learning poses significant challenges ranging from student-faculty interactions to students’ feelings of loneliness. For refugees, these factors are more pronounced due to their difficult living situations, often in camps and with unreliable connectivity. Significant barriers include a persistent negative perception of online education and the fact that governments of host countries do not fully recognise online degrees, which restricts employment opportunities for graduates, particularly in the public sector.

This study examines the success factors and challenges of learning online for refugees while considering region-specific conditions, such as language and culture, and the implications they have for successfully implementing online studies for selected target groups. Information is derived from a mid-term review of a pilot project developed under a grant agreement between the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and the University of People to improve access to higher education for Syrian refugees, as well as empirical evidence from development cooperation initiatives. Ultimately, the study responds to the question of whether this project can be transferred to other refugee populations. The study concludes that the project has been successful in providing Syrian refugees the opportunity to improve their employability options and gain an identity other than “refugee” – that of a student – which greatly improves their sense of self-worth and mental health. It also provides policy recommendations for the various stakeholders involved.