HEAR - Higher Education Alliance for Refugees

The Higher Education Alliance for Refugees is dedicated to improving access to education and training for those forced to flee their homes by violence, climate change and natural disasters. Only one percent of the estimated 65 million displaced people have access to education beyond the age of 18, limiting their futures and depriving countries of a vital resource for recovery. HEAR aims to harness expertise in universities around the world to create innovative approaches to resolve this problem.



Universities have been generous in providing scholarships but these reach only a tiny number of people. Only 200 Syrian students have studied in the United States in the past five years and despite efforts to raise money to help them, there are fewer Syrians in Lebanese universities now than before the war. Many Syrians had a strong expectation and belief in education with about a quarter of the population attending institutions of higher learning before 2012. We need new ways to help them reach their potential.



HEAR is organizing working groups of contributors from around the world to consider pressing obstacles to education and to develop new approaches to learning. Among the first three projects we are working on are:



Portable Qualifications: Refugees often flee without documents that prove past educational attainment. Universities close and records are destroyed, leaving many without the ability to prove that they have the qualifications for further education. Some government even use access to documents to punish refugee families or extort money. Block chain technology and peer-to-peer certification offer some technological prospects to resolve the issue but the wider legal, political and educational environments need to be considered if any system is to be successful. HEAR is working with Tent.Org to come up with answers.



The Future of Syrian Education: Syria’s universities are still functioning in government-controlled areas but many academics and students have fled the country or been internal displaced. Although peace may seem distant, there is a need to start considering what role education will play in the reconstruction of Syria both in terms of infrastructure and society. We need to consider how steps taken now to support Syrians might drive change in education in the future and what needs to be done to create a successful university system after conflict.



Vocational Education: Many refugees face limited prospects of returning home any time soon. In many cases they enter a globalized labor market but often have few opportunities to improve their skills or prepare for in-demand jobs. Many well-qualified Syrians have worked in the Gulf States, often in professional capacities. There are opportunities for other forms of employment if training can be established. Rebuilding Syria will also require a workforce skilled in many areas, particularly construction, water management, public health and IT.


HEAR has two immediate aims:

  •             To push the development of cost-effective, locally driven ways of educating more refugees in frontline host countries by harnessing the support and advocacy of universities worldwide.
  •             To use university resources to develop evidence-based plans to ensure refugee teaching is improved, education is better linked to jobs and women have greater access.




How HEAR works.



HEAR brings together diverse experts from universities around the world to contribute to the development of new policies. A small secretariat, based in Barcelona but currently managed by the Shattuck Center at CEU, will issue calls for action requesting collaboration from researchers. A small permanent staff will pull together working groups and write up policy reports. Advocacy for policy proposals will focus on ensuring that government and philanthropic funders are focused on helping refugees get improved access to education.



Who we are.



HEAR has been established by Professor John Shattuck, former Rector and President of the Central European University, and Robert Templer, Professor of Practice and Director of the Shattuck Center on Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery at CEU’s School of Public Policy. It has a small advisory panel including among its members Nobel laureate Professor Joe Stiglitz; former Australian Foreign Minister and Chancellor of the Australian National University Professor Gareth Evans; Karin Landgren, former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General; Professor Stephen Chan, an expert on development and former Dean of SOAS; and Professor Dawn Chatty, former Director of the Refugees Study Centre at Oxford University.



We are currently in the process of signing up member universities to join the Central European University, the members of the Association of American International Colleges and Universities and the Association of Catalan Universities in the alliance. HEAR is also working with Syrian and other organizations involved in education and research, including the new research organization Synaps, Orient Research Group, Educational Leaders without Borders, Kiron, and Jamiya.orgHEAR is supported by Tent.org. We are also very grateful for the support of the Barcelona International Public Policy Hub and the Barcelona International Policy Sector Action Plan (BCN Action Plan).