ASU Foundation for A New American University

  • Project Contact: Phil Regier
  • Title: University Dean & CEO
  • Email:

  • Education, Human Rights, Economic Opportunity

  • Iraq | Kenya

  • Economically disadvantaged people, Refugees and displaced people, Students

  • Supporting organization

  • $128,297,930 (2015)

  • 599

Executive Summary

Refugees are the single most vulnerable population worldwide-nearly every five seconds, a person is displaced. The challenge is not just providing for their physical needs. For refugees, conflict has disrupted their lives, leaving them with little to no resources to advance their employment skills and education. As a human necessity, we must also provide refugees with educational and training resources to ensure opportunities can be leveraged for a better life in the midst of a tragic crisis. Arizona State University, the most innovative university in the U.S., seeks to empower refugees by connecting them with reusable, deployable educational resources at scale. With the formation of the Humanitarian Education Collective, we will architect and organize a network of partners-leaders in their fields-that will aggregate educational opportunities specific to the needs of the region, understand and be sensitive to cultural contexts, leverage new digital educational technologies and provide extensive in person support.

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The Problem

Many countries are unprepared and under resourced to provide the necessary education and training to the millions of displaced refugees residing in their countries. Even though organizations, such as UNICEF, have double shift schedules allowing for extra hours of classroom time, students still are not getting the instruction time they need. Other organizations do their best to support all students, but face overcrowding or are unable to financially support every student, leaving many to fall through the cracks. And with reduced stipends, many families depend on their children to generate income-leaving little time for formal education or training. The opportunity to study at the tertiary level is even less likely. UNHCR estimates that only one percent of college ready refugees are being reached with current efforts. Many of these efforts are scholarship based programs that bring refugees to physical universities. Programs exist that leverage online and hybrid modalities to deliver content, but these efforts have not reached scale. In addition, many organizations are doing good work in delivering higher education to refugees on a case by case basis, but no current technological infrastructure exists to aggregate common resources to create synergies, greater student choice, economies of scale, shared hardware and synchronized efforts.The combination of refugee growth, limited resources and a variety of individual circumstances makes it important to find affordable, scalable and flexible educational solutions that not only deliver content but also engage the community in the learning and teaching process.

Proposed Solution

Many organizations are working on efforts to bring higher education to refugees with only small successes. The Humanitarian Education Collective seeks to coordinate these efforts via a network of experienced partners to bring education to refugees, wherever they reside. The goal of the Collective is to provide pathways to recognized higher education credentials and training. Providing rapid response higher education to refugee populations is complex, however the combination of technology and local human capital can overcome these obstacles. The Collective will bring together relevant education technology, education content, international development, infrastructure and hardware organizations to develop a virtual platform that will aggregate existing educational resources, house new resources, collect user data and serve as a mobile student educational record. We propose a flexible, cloud based system for delivering crowdsourced educational products, supported by local human capital. This system will allow for scalability to support students anywhere in the world with their educational needs and provide a community platform for displaced persons to exchange information and connect with their peers. The Collective will uplift the refugee community-providing them purpose, the ability to learn new skills and hopefully use these skills to leave camps via student visas to further their education, gain employment in approved sectors and even start their own businesses. Removing obstacles to education is critical for refugees to recover from conflict, realize their rights and contribute to host countries. And, host countries will gain a pool of skilled workers and will see a reduction in overcrowding in their schools.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Higher education continues to be an important driver of economic development worldwide. According to a literature review conducted by UKAID, tertiary education in developing countries has a strong impact on economic growth. In addition, the same report found that there is strong evidence that higher education positively impacts individual earnings. In light if these facts, the importance of higher education in refugee contexts becomes even more important. Expanding existing resources and offering new ones creates a larger pool of choice for potential students. While higher education is impactful, many question the effectiveness of digital modalities. However, recent studies have found that the blend of online and in person learning is effective. William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University, found in an analysis of 605 college students that blended learning that utilized online and some face to face interaction had the same or better learning outcomes as traditional face to face classes. Blended delivery of tertiary education for refugees can be effective. The effectiveness of blended learning in the context of displaced persons will depend on many factors, including: the availability of learning hardware/internet and the careful coordination of on ground support. From our conversations with organizations working in the target region camps, we have learned that smart phone penetration is high. Also, UNHCR reports that most camps have internet connectivity. Further, Jesuit World Wide Learning provides higher educational opportunities to refugees notes that in person guidance in conjunction with digital content is extremely important for student success.

Previous Performance

ASU recognizes the power of partnerships in providing quality online education at scale to anyone, anywhere in the world. Through our innovative projects, such as Global Freshman Academy (GFA) and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), we are producing future generations of master learners who are armed to meet future market and life demands. In 2015, ASU partnered with edX to create GFA, a first of its kind collaboration that offers a full freshmen year of courses for credit. GFA provides students from anywhere in the world an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to manage the rigor of college level courses. In 2014, ASU and Starbucks together launched SCAP, offering benefits eligible partners (employees) an opportunity to earn a degree from one of ASU's 50 undergraduate programs. In February 2015, ASU, in partnership with King's College London and UNSW Australia, launched the PLuS Alliance. They are collaborating in the areas of sustainability, global health, social justice, technology and innovation to develop sustainable solutions to society's global challenges. The Collective will build on our past partnering success allowing us to co create a reusable, deployable platform-one that can be aggregated based on the needs of the region. International development partners will connect local support from companies, government agencies and global citizens to maximize impact. Development partners often have the support of foreign ministries and US embassies as well as local companies. We will engage educational partners with solid track records in bringing together employers, philanthropists, impact investors and local governments to solve educational inequities and uplift communities.

The Team

Team Purpose

According to the UN's High Council on Refugees, only one percent of the worldwide refugee population has access to higher education. EdPlus at ASU, the university's educational technology enterprise, is dedicated to creating an immersive, technology advanced ecosystem that broadens access to higher education. EdPlus' mission to provide education for everyone, everywhere at scale complements our goal to expand higher education to refugees. As the lead of the Humanitarian Education Collective, EdPlus will provide refugees access to education, wherever they are located. To do so, we will partner with organizations with expertise in international development, hardware, infrastructure, educational content and learning experience platforms to develop the Collective. EdPlus will not serve as the only educational provider or educational technology partner in the network. We will also partner with other likeminded universities worldwide to offer pathways to credentials. All partners will be carefully vetted and selected to align with this vision.

Team Structure

The Humanitarian Education Collective will be comprised of organizations with expertise in the following areas: educational technology, educational content, international development, infrastructure and hardware. EdPlus at ASU will act as the convening organization and primary lead on educational technology and educational content. We will help build a mobile enabled digital platform based on the feedback of user focus groups and partner expertise. This platform will aggregate multiple educational resources supported by on ground support for refugees. Day to day management of the Collective will be led by a senior leader within EdPlus at ASU. The team will coordinate and lead partner development and the curation of resources while building a universal digital platform. Through various milestones, including the initial build and launch of the Collective, the team will meet regularly with designated partner leads and will visit pilot sites quarterly for the first two years of implementation to track progress. In addition, both quantitative and qualitative data will be gathered from various platforms and Collective partner organizations. Example partners may include IREX, UNICEF, UNHCR, Knod and Jesuit Worldwide Education. Appropriate adjustments to the Collective will be made as needed and will be overseen by a board of directors comprised of international experts.