A course developed by two universities that was intended to be delivered in a refugee camp in Kenya was nearly shelved because of government concerns that offering higher education to displaced Somalis might make them less likely to return home.
Barbara Moser-Mercer, professor of conference interpreting at the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Translation and Interpreting, worked with academics at Kenyatta University in Nairobi to develop an interpretation course that was to be delivered in Dadaab, a town in eastern Kenya that is home to about 340,000 Somali refugees.
However, although international refugee law states that refugees have a right to primary and post-primary education, it does not extend to higher education, and Professor Moser-Mercer said convincing the Kenyan government to allow delivery of the course was a challenge.
“The Kenyan government felt that if higher education was offered to refugees in the camp, the refugees would want to stay in the camp and not return to Somalia,” she told Times Higher Education.
To ensure that the course, a certificate in community interpreting, which can be used in places such as Dadaab, could proceed, Professor Moser-Mercer altered its method of delivery to make it more like a massive open online course.
“The fact that courses such as Moocs are all offered at a distance was the argument that ultimately won [the government] over.” She said that because free online courses would be available to the refugees regardless of whether they return home, resettle or remain in the camp, there was no danger that offering access to a web-based course in Dadaab would make any difference to their movement.
“I changed the course from 80 per cent online and 20 per cent on site to 100 per cent online,” she said. “I am just happy that we were able to negotiate ourselves out of an impasse.”
Initially, there will be 25 scholarships available to people in Dadaab, to be divided between inhabitants of the refugee camp and members of the local populace.
“A quarter of the places will go to the community of Dadaab, not those inside the camp. It is an agreement that had to be made because of the argument that the camp residents – the refugees – get better treatment than the locals,” Professor Moser-Mercer explained. “We are now waiting for applications, which will be made through Kenyatta University.”
A learning hub with internet access, which will be administered by refugees, has already been set up in Dadaab, and the universities are working on procedures to allow people who do not live nearby to travel to the site.
Professor Moser-Mercer said that although the initial intake was “quite small”, the plan was to “work out any kinks, and then scale up”.
She was speaking to THE after addressing the Moocs, E-learning and Beyond conference, which was hosted by The Bartlett, University College London’s Faculty of the Built Environment, in London on 1 July.