By Adham Ramadan

Political upheavals in the MENA region over the past decade have led to a substantial refugee population with significant regional and global impacts. While some of the regional conflicts would need years to be resolved, for others, the repatriation of refugee populations will continue to be a challenge for years to come. Amongst a multitude of refugees’ needs in host countries, needs for education, higher education and graduate education opportunities are recognized by governments, private educational institutions and philanthropic organizations in the region, as well as international organizations. According to UNHCR,[1] there are about 250,000 refugees registered in Egypt in 2019, primarily originating from Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Eretria, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

An initiative was pioneered at The American University in Cairo (AUC) aiming at enhancing accessibility of refugees to graduate education. The university, established in 1919 as a bi-culture institution, represents the premier English language institution of higher education in Egypt, being the only example of American Liberal Art higher education institution with well-recognized graduate programs and a graduate student population of about 1000. Diversity represents a strategic priority, and in this respect, and in light of the size of the refugee population in Egypt, a graduate fellowship program for refugees as well as asylum seekers was established in 2017. The primary focus of the program was to provide tuition and stipendiary support for conducting master’s degrees at AUC. However, with the implementation of the initial phase of the program, it became apparent that support beyond tuition and stipendiary provisions was needed. Applicants to this fellowship program were in need of additional remedial English language beyond what is typically covered by graduate fellowships at the university. Some applicants were in need of financial support for registering in English language proficiency examinations, a requirement for graduate admission applications. For others, the graduate admission application fee was a challenge. An update of the program was conducted to address these additional financial needs, and currently graduate fellowships for refugees offer financial support wider than other fellowships at AUC, including coverage of English proficiency examinations fees, exemption from the graduate admission application fee, and tuition coverage for remedial English language courses as well as any pre-requisite courses that might be required.

Provisions were also implemented for non-financial support as might be needed. Examples include mentoring and counselling available at the university Center of Student Well-being; addressing gaps in educational experiences or incomplete educational records by additional pre-requisite courses covered by the fellowships offered and by special provisions at graduate admission, respectively. In order to avoid stigmatization within the body of graduate students, recipients of fellowship support for refugees at AUC are not publically designated as such.

In the 2018/2019 academic year, there were 26 graduate admission applications submitted from individuals with refugee status. Currently 10 enrolled graduate students with refugee/asylum seeker status benefit from fellowship support at AUC. While their numbers are still limited, graduate recruitment efforts continue to promote graduate studies opportunities at AUC among the refugee population in Egypt, in cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs working with refugees. These opportunities not only provide life-changing prospects to refugees, but also add a valuable dimension to diversity on campus.

[1] Egypt Fact Sheet, UNHCR, March 2019, retrieved on November 10, 2019.