In March of 2017 the Institute for International Education launched the Platform for Education in Emergencies Response, or the IIE PEER program. The launch of IIE PEER was in response to several identifiable gaps in the field of higher education for refugees and displaced students. Providing displaced students an opportunity to attend university is wrought with many challenges both practical and ideological, including funding, different credentialing standards and the recognition of the need to support the education refugee and displaced students at large. But we decided to start at the very beginning. Early field research showed that displaced and refugee students in need of or who qualify for university scholarships often become overwhelmed when searching for higher education opportunities online, the most common method of search. A simple Google search, ‘scholarships for refugees’, returns nearly 1 million hits. For some, knowing where to start can be a challenge.
Simplifying the Scholarship Search
In light of the vast volume of search results, and common feedback from a broad collection of stakeholders in the higher education community, including students themselves, the Institute of International Education (IIE) took the first step in helping lessen the deluge and jungle of university scholarship search results through its creation of iiepeer.org. IIEPEER.org is a mobile-friendly, easily searchable clearinghouse and database of scholarship opportunities for displaced students.
IIEPEER.org catalogues and vets scholarship, online and language learning opportunities, then displays search results in an accessible, simply designed format. While in its first year the IIE PEER platform has sought to reach some of the more than 600,000 Syrian students seeking to further or continue their higher education, soon the IIE PEER database will expand to reach other populations of displaced and refugee students in all regions of the world. With a low barrier to use, welcoming design and regularly updated opportunities, the PEER platform has reached over 20,000 unique users to date. As displaced students become increasingly aware that they too can continue their education we anticipate this number to grow.
Helping students answer the question of what scholarship opportunities exist is the start. Scholarship searches often reveal a new collection of critical questions for students: What scholarships do I qualify for? In what country should I study? What documentation is required to apply? What documentation is required to attend? Will I be able to afford university? Many students also stand to overcome practical and logistical hurdles to make their applications competitive. Maybe a TOEFL score or a resume needs improvement. Many students do not know whom to turn to for help. University application guidance from teachers, friends, family or members of the community may be available to some, but this is rarely the case for displaced students new to their host communities.
To help students overcome the challenges in applying for scholarship users of IIE PEER will soon gain access to the personalized attention and guidance they need in identifying the right scholarships and crafting the best university application possible. Virtual and in-person advisers with specific knowledge of certain higher education systems will help guide students toward the program that best fits their qualifications and educational goals. The ability for students to communicate with advisers over technological platforms such as Skype and WhatsApp will enable those without access to in-person advising programs receive virtual assistance.
The Multiplier Effect
While IIE PEER seeks to demystify the search for scholarships, many qualified students do not know that continuing study at university is possible. Displaced students currently on university scholarships report that it was not until they received a scholarship that their friends realized they too could apply. If IIE PEER can help one student succeed, the effect may be multiplied. Those with higher education are not only more likely to return to their home country to help rebuild after conflict, but in the short term they provide hope and a path for others to do the same.
Global Education in Emergencies Specialist
Institute of International Education