ChapterPDF Available

Higher Education Spaces and Protracted Displacement: How Learner-Centered Pedagogies and Human-Centered Design Can Unleash Refugee Innovation



The number of refugees and displaced persons around the world has reached historic levels. Education in Emergencies responses have traditionally focused on primary education with higher education opportunities often having been perceived as a luxury. Current statistics on refugee access to education confirms this ongoing trend: 50% of refugee children access primary education, 22% secondary education, and only 1% higher education. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to losing their right to education, a basic human right that is enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Refugee Convention, and is essential to the exercise of many other human rights. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, thereby broadening the education mandate to include lifelong learning. Refugee youth have extremely limited options in conflict and crisis zones. However, rapid advances in technology and online learning have laid the foundations for making higher education opportunities accessible for refugee youth. Education fosters innovation and entrepreneurial skills that are important for employability, economic activity, and job creation—elements that are critical for stability during times of reconstruction and for longer term sustainable development. If refugees and internally displaced persons receive a quality education while in exile, they are more likely to develop the necessary skills to make use of the existing economic, social, and political systems in their host communities as well as upon returning home. This paper analyzes the contribution of Open Educational Resources (OERs) to building twenty-first-century skills and explores the value of tutoring and mentoring models, learner retention, learning technologies, and provision of language and subject matter support that best mediate higher level learning in fragile contexts. Variables such as sustainability, operability, equal access, cultural and linguistic ownership, livelihoods, and context relevance were used to analyze available evidence in an effort to inform optimal design and scalability of such learning spaces, as well as their potential use in migrant refugee contexts. The importance of refugee ownership and empowerment are emphasized as vectors for ensuring the sustainability of HE spaces in fragile contexts and for fostering creativity and innovation, thereby feeding into the larger framework of Education for All and Sustainable Development Goal 4.
A preview of the PDF is not available
... Students with little digital literacy or formal education background need contact to real people in order to raise questions on difficult to understand concepts and for social networking [9]. In addition, students in refugee camps need context-specific learning support and academic guidance to gain relevant knowledge and skills that could improve their quality of life and career prospects [8,10,12,13]. ...
... InZone is a centre for higher education in refugee contexts at the UNIGE [40]. Since 2010, InZone has offered context-specific credit-bearing courses on human rights, children's rights, ethics, and basic medical education to refugees in Kakuma [12]. These courses are built on MOOCs and delivered with continuous support to participating students by (I) other students and experts in Geneva via WhatsApp, (II) on-site refugee facilitators, and (III) experts that teach face-to-face in the camp at the end of the MOOC. ...
... MOOCs are often new for refugees (i.e. most of the distance learning initiatives for refugees have been launched after 2014 [41]) and mentoring is crucial for their effective learning experience [8,9,12,42]. Students in Kakuma were mentored by MGH students through continuous online exchanges. ...
Full-text available
Today, the world counts millions of refugees but only a fraction of them have access to higher education. Despite the multiple public health problems in refugee camps and the need to build local capacities to prevent and combat them, University level courses in public health are largely unavailable for refugees. This paper describes the development, implementation and evaluation of an innovative two-module blended-learning programme on One Health in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya). This programme combines: (I) Interdisciplinary and multi-expert MOOC on “Global Health at the Human-Animal-Ecosystem interface”; (II) peer-to-peer learning involving students from University of Geneva Master of science in Global Health and research collaborations around specific and locally-relevant problems; (III) online mentoring and lecturing by experts from the Institute of Global Health in Kakuma. A total of 67 refugees applied to Module 1; 15 started the Module 1 in October 2017, of these 14 completed it and 6 passed the exams, finally five students started the Module 2 in October 2018 which they all passed in February 2019. Five student-led collaborative projects were developed focusing on the conception of a community-based monitoring system for prevalent diseases in the camp. With such a pedagogic approach, the programme provides an overview on Global Health challenges at the human-animal-ecosystem interface and the importance of the One Health approach, and introduces students to scientific research through interdisciplinary and international collaborations and innovation. The high number of applicants and positive feedback from students in Kakuma show the interest in One Health education in the camp. This learning experience ultimately aims at building local knowledge and capacity fostering “One Health” champions to reinforce local and national health system. This framework for One Health education could be potentially scaled up to other camps in Africa and the world.
... These include their different backgrounds, their previous education, their location, their literacy level and language skills, whether their studies were interrupted, and any traumatic experiences they may have had. Moser-Mercer, Hayba, and Goldsmith (2016) and English and Mayo (2019) agree that human-centred initiatives are essential in fragile contexts and, ideally, learning must be designed following a bottom-up approach that involves the learners "as subjects and not objects" of the learning process (ibid.). ...
Full-text available
Asylum seekers are still moving, in great numbers, from Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) and the Middle East to the European Union (EU) to seek protection from political oppression, war and poverty, as well as to reunite with family, and benefit from entrepreneurship and education (EC, 2017; EU, 2018). The UNHCR (2019) notes that 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced from their native countries. Mediterranean EU Member States are seeing an ever-growing influx of illegal migrants, through land and sea routes. During the first month of 2019, 6,727 migrants arrived in Europe, of which 5,685 were sea arrivals through Malta, Spain, Greece and Italy – the strategic entry points to the EU. In the previous year, Malta took 1,445 arrivals. The issue of mass migration and population movement has dominated European discourse for at least 40 years. Since the invasion of Iraq and the various destabilization efforts against countries like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, however, an entirely new phenomenon has erupted onto the centre stage – millions of people fleeing failed States, violence, terrorism and despair. Especially in the case of Syria (now in its fifth year of war) the problem of millions seeking to depart from the chaos has become huge. We are now entering a period of real transition however. Far from the malicious impact of war and violence, new problems arise around family fragmentation, emotional trauma, and the need to rebuild lives.
... This on the surface, makes OER a perfect fit for under resourced and underfunded education endeavors such as those on offer in higher education in refugee contexts. Education however, is more than providing access to information, and involves 'knowledge and skill acquisition, instruction, debate, application of acquired expertise, critical inquiry, cultural expression, and transmission to other members of the community and society' (Moser-Mercer, et al., 2018). As a knowledge source, OERs can be effectively mined to assist in the enabling of learning, but to become true pedagogical tools OERs need the support of effective scaffolding to realise their full potential. ...
Full-text available
The delivery of higher education in refugee contexts is no stranger to dealing with the unforeseen and responding to the needs of vulnerable learners. Being flexible and adaptable to a multitude of challenges and obstacles is a core component of any scaffolding that wishes to support refugee higher education programmes. InZone, an academic and humanitarian programme at the University of Geneva, has empirically developed a flexible and adaptable ‘learning ecosystem’ to scaffold its delivery of higher education programmes in Africa and the Middle East. This chapter explores how this responsive ecosystem has enabled top tier university programmes in some of the most challenging educational environments between 2017 and 2018. The functioning of the ecosystem is explored within the context of the lived reality of learners in the camps and course participation data is shared to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning ecosystem as a scaffold for enabling higher education in refugee contexts. Lessons learned point to recommendations for pedagogical innovations that could be employed to cope with pedagogical disruptions for the wider education world during testing times such as Covid19.
... This is due to the feeling of helplessness and insecurity that can compound feelings of despair and hopelessness over years of displacement with limited or no educational or economic opportunities. Many view higher education as a route out of poverty and discrimination and are highly aspirational and motivated (Moser-Mercer, Hayba, and Goldsmith, 2016). Provision of access to higher education will enable displaced persons build capacity for enhanced integration and contribution to their communities. ...
Full-text available
Displaced persons encounter some difficulties in accessing higher education, yet higher education remains their inalienable rights. This study focused on ways of managing the higher education needs of internally displaced persons. Three hypotheses guided the study. The descriptive survey research design was adopted in the study. The entire population was used since it is not large enough to warrant randomization. The sample comprised 600 participants (38 teachers and 562 senior secondary (SS 1-3) students from three secondary schools. The instrument used for data collection was questionnaire titled Higher Education Needs for Displaced Persons Questionnaire (HENDPQ) on a modified four point Likert scale. The precision and internal consistency of the instrument was determined using Cronbach reliability method which gave rise to a coefficient ranging from 0.76 - 0.81. The data was collected personally by the researchers with the help of three research assistants. The data collected was analyzed using Pearson Product Moment Correlation Analysis at 0.05 level of significance. The result of the analysis revealed that there is a significant positive influence of higher education needs on development of displaced persons, provision of scholarships/bursaries on access to higher education; and provision of certified distance learning and e-learning opportunities on access to higher education for displaced persons. Based on these findings it was recommended that the government should urgently manage the higher education needs of displaced persons through adequate provision of scholarships/bursaries, distance learning and e-learning opportunities to enhance access to higher education.
... 37 * * * What does all of this tell us about the struggle of Colombian rural, indigenous and Afro communities for recognition of their rights to land and to remain? It does make us aware of the fact that there is immense human 35 And, in particular, how to avoid the dangers of thinking always in terms of 'humanitarian assistance' and develop participatory approaches and pedagogies that empower beneficiaries as co-designers of solutions (see Moser-Mercer et al. 2016). 36 'Key elements of a positive enabling environment for bottom-up innovation include: a) a permissive environment with the right to work and freedom of movement; b) access to connectivity including the internet and telecommunications; c) access to education and skills training; d) good infrastructure and transportation links; e) access to banking and credit facilities; f) transnational networks. ...
Unlike the previous phylogenetic and sociogenetic focus, this chapter considers a different timescale: the life-course. By reflecting on how movement and migration define life trajectories, an argument is made that mobile lives are, at once, agentic lives. Even when personal mobility ‘fails’, its role in expanding our horizon remains. Forced and traumatic migration are discussed as extreme cases that illustrate the delicate balance between movement, possibility and impossibility in the life-course.
... The founding of our organization, Mosaik Education, stemmed from our conversations about using bottom-up and participatory innovation to address the challenges refugees face in accessing higher education (Moser-Mercer, Hayba, and Goldsmith 2016;Obrecht and Warner 2016), and from our desire to understand more fully how to implement contextualized, learner-centered program design. Our vision was that refugees and displaced people in conflict-affected communities would be able to access, shape, and lead the education they require to rebuild their 1 Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians (HOPES) is one of the projects funded by the Madad Fund. ...
Full-text available
Refugees face significant challenges in accessing higher education. It is clear that new and diverse solutions are needed that both understand and address the contextual barriers to higher education access for refugees. In keeping with new approaches in the wider humanitarian community, which recognize the role communities can play in creating new education solutions, our organization sought to employ participatory design methods in the development of a new program to support access to higher education for refugees in the Middle East (mainly in Jordan and Lebanon). This note provides insights into the implementation of the participatory process and details the impact the participatory approach had on the design of our programs. Finally, we highlight the need for gender-balanced recruitment strategies through our reflection on the impact the design of the participatory process had on those participating.
This SpringerBriefs volume illustrates the potentials of digital learning opportunities in higher education for refugees with different educational, social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds from various perspectives and based on research conducted in several countries. Global challenges for academic success that refugees face when seeking to enter higher education are outlined. One possibility to reduce the obstacles for refugees entering higher education is to offer digital learning platforms. A selection of international digital education platforms for refugees are presented, which are based on a variety of approaches to accommodate the needs of prospective refugee students. Based on findings from practical studies and research projects from several countries, the volume highlights the numerous challenges related to the successful integration of refugees into higher education. These challenges arise at both the individual and the institutional level. The contributions included in this volume also show how these challenges can be effectively met using digital teaching–learning platforms. The SpringerBriefs volume thus offers a comprehensive insight into the opportunities online-based learning platforms offer regarding the successful integration of refugees into higher education, but it also addresses the limitations of digital education. Overall, the research presented in this SpringerBriefs volume is relevant for political stakeholders, university practitioners in the field of migration research, university research, and online and digital learning researchers.
Full-text available
Background: Globally, there is an excess of 68.5 million people who have been forced to leave their homes and seek sanctuary elsewhere because of poverty, persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations. Although international humanitarian responses usually focus on ensuring that the basic needs of these people are being met, there is growing attention on the role that development-oriented interventions can play in the longer term. Higher education in a refugee context is one such intervention that can equip refugees with the knowledge and skills they need to serve their communities and move forward. Objective: This study aims to evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of the University of Geneva InZone-Raft Basic Medical Training Course in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya compared with a previous incarnation of the same course in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Methods: We used a quasi-experimental design to compare the posttest scores of both inequivalent student groups: control group (n=18) and intervention group (n=16). Factors that influenced refugee students’ knowledge acquisition, the amount of knowledge they acquired, and their academic outcomes were assessed, and the pedagogical evolution of the project is presented. Results: We found that the Kakuma intervention course yielded better outcomes and was more effective in terms of learning than the Dadaab control course. Of the 16 students who took part in the intervention course, 10 (63%) completed the program successfully and received accreditation from the University of Geneva. We observed that they received new knowledge well and scored higher on all learning modalities than those in the control course. Comparison of written and oral examinations between the courses showed statistical significance for the intervention group in written and oral exams (two-tailed: P=.006 and P=.05; one-tailed: P=.003 and P=.03, respectively). The Kakuma course was not effective in addressing electricity and internet access problems, nor in reducing the challenge of tight deadlines in the syllabus. Pedagogical adjustments to the intervention course improved student involvement, with higher participation rates in quizzes (10/11, 91%), and overall satisfaction and learning. Conclusions: The intervention group—with an improved mode of delivery, better contextualized content, and further interaction—reached a higher level of medical knowledge acquisition and developed more complex questions on medical topics than the control group. The positive outcome of this project shows that given the right resources and support, refugees can contribute to the improvement and development of health care in their communities. Nonetheless, a more focused effort is necessary to meet the educational needs of refugee learners and better understand their living conditions.
Full-text available
Online education and in particular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are often regarded as a way to solve global educational challenges. In this article, we highlight the students’ uptake of such a ‘digital solution’. Presenting initial findings from a research project in Germany, we situate our investigation in the specific context of digital educational offers for refugees, using Kiron Open Higher Education as an example. Kiron has designed an innovative academic model, with MOOCs at its core, to ease refugees’ access into higher education. Drawing from student data of 1375 Kiron students we look at students’ actual usage of the offer and the accompanying support services as well as the difficulties refugee students face while navigating online higher education. Results show, amongst others, rather low completion rates in the online courses and point to a much more nuanced picture of how students make use of the offer – putting online education as an easy, straightforward formula to the integration of disadvantaged students into question.
Foreign-backed funding for education does not always stabilize a country and enhance its state-building efforts. This book shows how aid to education in Afghanistan bolstered conflict both deliberately in the 1980s through violence-infused, anti-Soviet curricula and inadvertently in the 2000s through misguided stabilization programs. It also reveals how dominant humanitarian models that determine what counts as appropriate aid have limited attention and resources toward education, in some cases fueling programs that undermine their goals. For education to promote peace in Afghanistan, the book argues that we must expand equal access to quality community-based education and support programs that increase girls' and boys' attendance at school. Referring to a recent U.S. effort that has produced strong results in these areas, the book commends the program's efficient administration and good quality, and its neutral curriculum, which can reduce conflict and build peace in lasting ways. Drawing on up-to-date research on humanitarian education work amid conflict zones around the world and incorporating insights gleaned from extensive fieldwork in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the book recalculates and improves a popular formula for peace.
Millions of refugees today are trapped in protracted encampment where they are dependent on external support for basic necessities. Growing up in a refugee camp, many young people are eager to attain Higher Education but lack the opportunities and freedoms their non-refugee peers enjoy as they transition into adulthood and look for meaningful ways to support themselves. This article explores three main assumptions surrounding barriers to Higher Education in Protracted Refugee Situations both theoretically as well as in relation to the particular case of Burmese refugees in Thailand. Following a rights-based approach and adopting post-structural theories, this literature-based article demonstrates how dominant educational discourse emphasizes externalities and thereby neglects the practical realization of the individual's right to Higher Education, while powerful narratives of refugees as dependent victims have shaped reality in justifying mechanisms for international protection and incapacitating refugees. The article concludes that Higher Education could be both a means to refugee empowerment and a form of empowerment. We must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers, who say that the educated only are free (Epictetus, 55-135 AD).
a b s t r a c t Technologies for social inclusion in Latin America are a recent manifestation of grassroots innovation movements whose global activities go back to appropriate technology in the 1970s and earlier. Common to these movements is a vision for innovation processes more inclusive towards local communities in terms of knowledge, processes and outcomes. A comparison in this article between movements for technologies for social inclusion now and appropriate technology in the past reveals three enduring challenges for grassroots innovation: attending to local specificities whilst simultaneously seeking wide-scale diffusion; being appropriate to existing situations that one ultimately seeks to transform; and, working with project-based solutions to goals (of social justice) whose root causes rest in structures of economic and political power. Each challenge effectively frames grassroots innovation differently, and responses generate valuable forms of knowledge production: grassroots ingenuity; grassroots empow-erment; and structural critique. Overall, these movements contribute valuable plurality and reflexivity to innovation policy and politics.
MOOC multi-center-study 2015
  • B Moser-Mercer
Moser-Mercer, B. (2016). MOOC multi-center-study 2015. Unpublished Internal InZone report. Geneva: University of Geneva/InZone.
Humanitarian innovation: The state of the art
  • L Bloom
  • A Betts
Bloom, L. & Betts, A. (2014). Humanitarian innovation: The state of the art. Occasional Paper Series UN-OCHA, November 2014/009. Available from and http://www.
This is the future of college
  • J Hullinger
Hullinger, J. (2015). This is the future of college. Last accessed November 12, 2017 from http://
Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation
  • S B Merriam
Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Unpublished internal InZone report
  • Inzone
InZone. (2015). Technology-access-matrix. Unpublished internal InZone report. Geneva: University of Geneva/InZone.