The University of the People, which uses open-source technology and open educational resources to offer low-cost degrees in computer science and business administration, will partner with the UNHCR to admit refugees and asylum seekers even in cases where their previous educational achievement is difficult to prove, because of missing documentation.
Twenty-five refugee students have received a scholarship so far, meaning they will not even have to pay the administration fees charged by the university. Students without scholarships have to pay an administration fee and a charge for each examination they sit, with the total cost of a full, accredited degree coming to around £2,000.
Among those with a scholarship is Jamal Khamiss, a -year-old from Darfur, Sudan. In 2006, his home village was destroyed, and some of his family members were killed. He managed to finish high school and intended to go to university, but circumstances forced him to emigrate to Israel.
“We are reaching out to the least upwardly mobile population – refugees and asylum seekers – the ones most in line with our mission, to open the gates to higher education to all qualified students and those most in need of education in order to overcome other barriers,” said Shai Reshef, president and founder of the University of the People.
The University of the People, headquartered in Pasadena, California, gained accreditation earlier this year, and is currently developing a third degree programme in health sciences. Founded in 2009, it has now enrolled students from 150 countries, and is supported by a network of more than 3,000 volunteers. Its Council of Presidents is chaired by New York University President John Sexton, and includes former University of Oxford vice-chancellor Sir Colin Lucas and chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks.
In addition to the UNHCR, the refugee and asylum seeker programme is supported by Amnesty International, the African Refugee Development Centre and HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).
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