The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project is a consortium of Canadian and Kenyan universities and NGOs that aims to make educational programs available where refugees need them.
Today, millions are displaced as a result of war, persecution, violence, instability, drought, and environmental disasters in a world that is increasingly hostile towards refugees and asylum-seekers. Many are caught in displacement, often for ten years or more. Attending university or accessing other tertiary degree programs is nearly impossible with only 3% of refugees in the world able to access higher education (UNHCR 2019). Scholarship programs that do exist are few, favour select top-performing younger students, and take students away from their locale (WUSC 2021; UNHCR 2021). Women face additional barriers to pursuing an education.
BHER works to provide accredited university programs to working, untrained refugee and local teachers where they are. The project focuses on education for refugees caught in extended exile in the global South for more than 15 years, living in an underserved region where resources and supports for learning are scarce. By building the capacity of refugee and local teachers and leaders, they themselves are able to improve education and enact local solutions in the camps and community. We believe that the provision of quality higher education to refugees and locals will contribute to the conditions for justice, sustainability, and peace in Kenya, Somalia, and the surrounding region.
Informed by the vision to make educational programs available where refugees need them, and oriented towards promoting peace and development, BHER responds to conflict and instability commonly encountered in protracted refugee contexts through the provision of internationally accredited university education programs that will allow participants to teach in Dadaab or in Somalia if they eventually resettle.
In the context of refugee repatriation, return to fragile/post-conflict nations, as well as local integration and development, building capacity for teachers and other practitioners engaged in community development initiatives becomes paramount. The innovation of BHER rests in the population it serves, the model it uses, and the institutional policies/practices it enriches. In the context of increased calls to provide higher education for refugees, BHER is one of the few projects that offers programs and contributes to community capacity building in situ. All academic programs are offered free to refugee and local students.
The BHER Project combines the expertise of Canadian and Kenyan universities. Over the course of 10 years, we have amassed unique knowledge and experience in delivering university education on-site and online in the context of insecurity and marginalization. Working within and beyond individual institutional practices, as well as collaboratively through international partnerships, we have modeled programming on the specific needs of refugee populations, innovating through creative and flexible pedagogical practices (e.g. intercultural learning between BHER/Canadian students; international faculty collaboration through co-creation/co-development of courses; proactive curriculum responses to changes in Kenyan legislation regarding teacher education).
The cornerstones of BHER programming are stackability (allowing students to stop at any one level of programming); portability (enabling students to continue studies wherever they go); gender equity and inclusivity (taking all necessary measures to ensure participation of women, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities, as well as students with disabilities in all academic programs); and peaceful co-existence with the host community (at least 25% of BHER student body is from local sites).