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. 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). Young women face additional barriers to pursuing an education. Our aim is to provide accredited university programs to working, untrained refugee and local teachers in situ. By building the capacity of refugee and local teachers, they themselves are able to increase and improve education in the camps and local community. The BHER Project believes 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 violence and conflict commonly encountered in protracted refugee contexts through provision of internationally recognized university education programs that will allow participants to teach in Dadaab or in Somalia when they eventually resettle. In the context of the implementation of refugee repatriation to Somalia, building capacity for teachers and other practitioners engaged in community development initiatives becomes paramount. The innovation of the BHER project rests in the population it serves, the model it uses and the institutional policies and practices it enriches. This project focuses primarily 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 education are scarce. 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.
The BHER project combines the expertise of Canadian and Kenyan universities which in the course of 10 years have amassed unique knowledge and experience in delivering university education onsite and online in the context of insecurity and marginalization. Working with and beyond individual institutional practices, we have modelled programming on the specific needs of refugee populations; used various pedagogical tools and training, as well as modes of content delivery, including the creation of opportunities for BHER students for intercultural learning with their Canadian peers through blended course delivery; adapted course content to the local context; and responded proactively to changes in Kenyan legislation regarding teacher education. The cornerstone of BHER programming is 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). All academic programs are offered free to the refugee and local students serviced by BHER.
(1) Improve the equitable delivery of quality education in refugee camps and adjacent local communities through university training opportunities which will prepare a new generation of male and female teachers; (2) Create targeted, continuing opportunities for young men and women in university programs that will enhance their employability through portable certificates, diplomas and degrees; (3) Build the capacity of Kenyan and Canadian academic institutions that already offer onsite/on-line university degree programs to vulnerable and marginalized groups; (4) Contribute to efforts to build the conditions for justice, sustainability, and peace in the region through the provision of equitable, inclusive, gender sensitive, and culturally responsive university programs in situ.