Addressing Barriers to Higher Education for Refugees in Uganda

Education is a vital tool to help create sustainable and peaceful futures. Every year, thousands of talented, dedicated and passionate people are denied the opportunity to access higher education, to undertake training, develop their skills, or earn qualifications.

Higher education is a critical link between learning and earning, allowing young people to thrive. It is a priority for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as outlined in Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Education, forming an integral part of UNHCR’s protection and solutions mandate.

Many refugee students have had to overcome substantial barriers in their pursuit for education. While significant progress has been made in expanding higher education opportunities for refugees, much remains to be done. According to UNHCR, only 5% of refugees have access to higher education compared to only 1% in 2019 (Complementary Education pathways in UNHCR Education Strategy). This is far below the global average higher education enrollment among non-refugees, which stands at 39 per cent.
Because of the many challenges that refugees face, Windle International Uganda in partnership with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supporting them access tertiary education under the DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) Programme. The purpose of the DAFI Programme is to contribute to the self-reliance of refugees by providing them with a professional qualification for future employment. The programme aims at promoting self-reliance through increased access to opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, empowering students to contribute knowledge, skills and leadership to the host and home countries upon return.

For students and graduates, the DAFI programme serves as a foundation for social and professional development, allowing them to build careers in competitive fields of employment. The social returns of the DAFI program exceed investment at the individual level. Highly educated refugees reduce economic and psychological dependence of the whole communities in asylum, improving their self-reliance and preparing them for durable solutions.

WIU has partnered with leading public and privately own accredited institutions of learning in Uganda to provide scholars the opportunity to get world class quality education and training.
In 2021 despite COVID-19 restrictions, 16 (4 female, 12 male) graduated with first class degrees from various universities in Uganda. The stories of some of our first class graduates under the programme show zeal and resilience.

A dream come true.

Ladu Victor a recent Windle International Uganda alumna and 1st Class Honors Graduate underpins the importance of the DAFI Programme. Victor was supported to undertake a Bachelor of Sustainable Agriculture and Extension at Ndejje University.

It was a difficult moment for Victor after completing A-Level in 2014. He was frustrated with no hope or finances to join university. Even though his dream was to attain a university degree, he didn’t see it happening.

“Getting the DAFI scholarship was a dream come true. I had yearned to complete university and help my family and community but I had no means to do so. It was a life changing opportunity for me,” Ladu Victor noted.

For WIU supported scholars, the experience at the University also presents new challenges and opportunities.  “I was able to meet people from different backgrounds and countries. It helped change my attitude, perception, belief and values positively,” Victor said.




Nshimirimana Pamella, a 25-year-old Burundian national currently residing in Nakivale Refugee Settlement is another beneficiary.  Graduating was beyond her wildest imaginations.

“I wanted to continue with tertiary education but my family did not have enough money to pay for tuition and accommodation. I had to remain home for long until I saw the call for the DAFI scholarship programme at the settlement,” she says.

For refugees like Pamella, finishing moreover getting a first class degree was a big achievement. “I treasure education so much and completing my bachelors has changed my way of thinking and life.”

The fact that Pamella did a course of her dreams makes the achievement even more profound and this inspired her to excel. “I did a course which I have a passion for. I did social work and social administration at Nkumba University. I love it so much because I get to help communities in the settlement overcome their challenges,” she notes.

Pamella still dreams big and hopes to advance her academic qualifications. “I would like to advance my education because there is so much competition at the work place today but most importantly, I want to acquire more knowledge in psychology. This will enable me to better serve my fellow refugees and the community as a whole,” she elatedly noted during the interview.


Hopeful again

Juru Pamela James, 28-year-old South Sudanese national and another of the DAFI beneficiaries had lost all hope of advancing her education. She felt neglected and inferior. She felt her life was meaningless and getting the DAFI scholarship was the boost she needed at a difficult moment in her life. “I will forever be grateful for DAFI because it helped me regain my hope,” she notes.

“It encouraged me that life doesn’t end at the settlement. I worked hard to prove that we can overcome anything in this world because we are stronger than we thought. It also gave me hope that being a refugee doesn’t determine your future,” Juru Pamela added.


Scholarship enabled me to focus

Just like many other refugee students, Tap John Puol never thought he would graduate moreover with a first class degree. At the time of admission, he did not have the funds to support him at University. His fees at primary and secondary was paid for by a brother in-law who couldn’t continue supporting him at university because of many other demands and limited funds.

When the DAFI scholarship was advertised in 2017, Tap applied and was among the lucky students from Rhino camp in Arua that were selected to benefit from the scholarship.

“It is with great joy that I graduated with a first class degree from Ndejje University under the DAFI scholarship scheme managed by Windle International Uganda.
I was honored to be admitted for a course leading to the award of B.Sc. in Sustainable Agriculture and Extension in 2016,” Tap John said.

Because of the scholarship, Tap John was able to focus on his studies and eventually graduated.

“I am happy that during my studies, I never faced any difficulties because Windle International Uganda paid my allowance and tuition in time. Since I was not getting disruptions, I focused on my studies and attained a first class degree. I was so happy to be recognized by the University as per my certificate of honour,” he says.


Status of alumni

Our beneficiaries go on to make significant contributions to society in varying fields, from international development, government, and education among others.

“I am currently working with Welthungerhilfe in South Sudan as an Emergency Deputy Head of project. I am currently enrolled for a Master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development at Ndejje University. I hope to complete my master’s degree and proceed for a PhD. I want be a University lecturer in South Sudan and other African countries,” Tap John Puol, revealed.

Adding, “I am so happy because the scholarship changed my life and that of my family. I am now in position to sponsor my brothers and sisters in school and support other family members. This would not have been possible without UNHCR/DAFI/Windle International Uganda scholarship.”

The academics support structure that is extended to WIU scholars plays a pivotal role in their academic success. This type of support includes psychosocial services, mentorship, career guidance.

“The scholarship covers full tuition and related fees as well as allowances that cater for students’ wellbeing. It also includes academic counseling, mentoring and supporting students to transition to employment,” Eunice Akello, Program Manager – Scholarships, WIU.

WIU-DAFI First Class Graduates 2021 by Gender, Nationality and University

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