The Education Crisis of Refugees: What do the numbers tell us?

According to UNHCR, as per December 2015, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, (i.e. since the UNHCR started collecting displacement data in 1951) with an unprecedented 65.3 million people who had to flee their homes globally. “Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees. Statistics show that there are nearly 34,000 people who are forcibly displaced on a daily basis UNHCR ,n.d.- a)   and that there are nearly one in 100 people worldwide who are now displaced from their homes. Displacement levels are higher in some regions of the world than others. For example, more than one-in-twenty people living in the Middle East (5.6%) are currently displaced (PewResearch Center, 2016).

Despite the fact that everyone’s right to education has been declared in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ in 1948 (art., 26,  par.1 ), only 50 % of refugee children have access to primary education, while globally the average is above 90%. When they become older their chances to attend school diminishes and only 22% of refugee adolescents attend secondary school, while globally the average is 84% (UNHCR, n.d.-b).  

The situation is more aggravated when looking at higher education (HE). Only 1% of the global refugees are able to access HE, i.e. only 195,000 out of the total 7.2 million refugee children and youth who complete secondary education, are having access to HE (Gladwell et al., 2016).  When comparing this percentage with non-emergency contexts, we will find a huge discrepancy. The population of Afghanistan, despite being residents of a very fragile and post-conflict country, has an enrollment rate in HE that reaches 8.7% (UNESCO, 2016). When comparing the accessibility of HE with the average of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states we find the gap widening to reach 40% , as an average of 41% of 25- to 34-year-olds within OECD countries had attained HE in 2014 (OECD, 2015).  

In the case of Syrian refugees, the statistics show a wide discrepancy in HE enrollment between prior versus after the crisis.  Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, HE participation rate was 26% in urban areas and 16% in rural areas (UNHCR, 2015). However, after 4 years into the war, there were around 450,000 university-aged Syrian students, counted as refugees, but fewer than 6% could secure themselves a placement in a HE institute (Luo & Craddock, 2016).