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Refugees’ Trajectories into Higher Education in Host Countries

Refugees’ Trajectories into Higher Education in Host Countries: When Refugees Get the Opportunity, They Can Learn…but Barriers Need to Be Removed.

Juhar Yasin Abamosa (MPhil., MBA) July 27, 2016.


Refugees’ access to higher education is strikingly not a concern in many host countries both in political (policy) and academic arenas (Harries & Marlowe 2011). In some countries such as Norway, for instance, refugees may be advised to not to go higher education and rather search for low-skilled jobs instead. The alarming part is that even some institutions which are supposedly established to help refugees integrate into the host societies may demotivate refugees when it comes to participating in higher education (Abamosa 2015).

As a refugee, I have been advised at a Norwegian language school not to go to a university, and rather I should consider taking a cleaning job. The public officer has “advised” me to drop a plan of going to a university because, she claimed, she has seen many African refugees some of whom came from their home country with master’s degrees but could not make into a university in Norway. I have been told this despite the fact that I have told the officer my plan in Norway is to study a PhD and eventually become a researcher. I have of course not listened to the office’s “advice” because I have always known what I can achieve. Even though it hurts a lot to hear such negative and misleading comments about refugees’ capabilities, I have used it as a motivation to write a master’s thesis – in 2015 – titled: Refugees’ path to higher education in a host country: Opportunities and Challenges-A Qualitative Study from Norway. This article is largely based on the thesis.

Despite the dearth of literature on refugees’ experiences with regards to higher education in the host countries (Harris & Marlowe 2011), the already done handful of studies show that refugees are generally motivated to attain higher education in host countries (Halpern 2005, Ben-Moshe et al. 2008). In fact, one study (RCC 2012) from the UK indicates that (higher) education becomes the top priority of young refugees once they resettle in a safe host country. This is because, amongst other things, colleges and universities are places where dreams of many refugees materialize by for instance re-establishing their lives and their professional identities (Morrice 2009, p.661). So the question to be raised here is – why do some refugees not attain higher education in host countries despite their motivation and willingness to learn? The next sections will address this question systematically.

This article is organized into four main sections save the introduction section. The next section is presenting the main challenges refugees might face in their trajectories into higher education in host countries. Then short stories of two refugees from Norway will be presented. This is followed by conclusion of the article and some recommendations with the aim of solving problems refugees face in host countries and improve their participation in higher education in those countries.

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