Why we exist
The African Higher Education in Emergencies Network (AHEEN) came together to respond to the need for an African solution that contributes to inclusion of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the continent’s higher education systems.
AHEEN works within the framework of the World Humanitarian Summit’s Grand Bargain commitments to shifting power and funding to local actors with the goal of creating sustainable and culturally appropriate higher education options that emphasize local knowledge production, support community-building in fragility, and develop refugee economies through diplomas with strong employability potential in the very contexts in which students live and learn.
Forced migration impacts most severely children and youth. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts over 30% of the world’s refugee population, and over 20 million people in this region are persons of concern (POC) to UNHCR. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to losing their right to education, a basic human right that is enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Refugee Convention, and is essential to the exercise of many other human rights. Only 50% of refugee children attend primary education, a number that drops to 22% at secondary level and an estimated 3% at tertiary level. In general, host country education systems are ill prepared to integrate refugee children and youth, further challenging any refugee’s chance of qualifying for and/or pursuing higher education (GEM Report 2016).
With only about 3% of refugees accessing higher education and the majority of higher education in emergencies initiatives being led and managed by foreign universities, being project-based and restricted to only few locations, there is a clear need to conceive of a sustainable African-led model that builds on existing higher education capacity on the continent. Several international and local drivers converge at this point in time: The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and in its wake the Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in December 2018, and the first Global Refugee Forum (December 2019, Geneva) all emphasise the recognition of higher education as an important factor in protection, resilience and for employability. In addition, continental, regional and national declarations and guidelines (e.g., UNESCO Declaration 2016; the IGAD Nairobi Declaration 2019; UNESCO Qualifications Passport 2019, the Africa 2030 agenda and the AU 2063 framework) further stress the importance of strengthening higher education systems on the continent (2019 Report on African Higher Education – Opportunities for Transformative Change and Sustianable Development).
The recent pandemic has brought to light the overriding importance of community-led local and national preparedness: when national borders close and international exchange is interrupted, only national contextualized programs will ensure stability, continuity of learning and leverage immediately available local innovation potential. The AHEEN thus ensures that the implementation of the network’s higher education programs is entirely refugee-led on the ground, with refugee-led organisations (RLOs) taking the lead in their communities from outreach to qualified applicants all the way through to graduation. Services supplied to the AHEEN are secured from refugee entrepreneurs – this website is but one example – and local partnerships to expand on student services are managed by refugees. RLOs are a key resource to support knowledge production as they are directly affected by gaps in knowledge that hamper the advancement of their communities. Through participatory action research approaches and citizen science models AHEEN students work with RLOs to drive authentic research models that meet the needs for new knowledge in their communities, are ethically grounded and rigorously implemented.
In order to deliver on its outcomes, the AHEEN members come together not only from academe, but also from the private sector, NGOs and international organisations. Bringing about systemic change requires a whole-of-society approach.