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Higher Education Challenges for Migrant and Refugee Students in a Global World

reviewed by Petrina M. Davidson & Lisa Damaschke-Deitrick - January 11, 2021

coverTitle: Higher Education Challenges for Migrant and Refugee Students in a Global World
Author(s): Khalid Arar, Kussai Haj-Yehia, David B. Ross, & Yasar Kondakci
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 143316020X, Pages: 378, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com

If refugees are able to access higher education, this could not only bring social, economic or personal benefits, increase the trust and also their engagement in the host society, it could also improve the status of the refugees and make them more visible. (p. 9) 

Access to higher education is crucial not only for refugees, but also for host countries, as immigrant integration is one way for a country to “gain economic benefits and interests through these policies and strategies” (p. 7). At the individual level, higher education access for refugees is both a social and economic issue, as Ferede (2018) highlights, “Higher education has been shown to be a gateway to upward social and economic mobility by enabling access to higher-skilled, better-paid positions, access to well-connected social networks, and entry into the middle class” (p. 6). Therefore, considerations and examinations of higher education opportunities are mutually beneficial to individuals, universities, and societies. It is important to examine and consider how societies and institutions can best support these individuals as they transition from their home countries to their new countries. Despite this importance and an increase in forced migration due to both internal and external phenomena, theories, policies, and practices related to higher education for refugees are under-examined areas.

As Khalid Arar, Kussai Haj-Yehia, David B. Ross, and Yasar Kondakci demonstrate in their edited volume, Higher Education Challenges for Migrant and Refugee Students in a Global World, global migration, including forced migration such as that experienced by refugees, is not a challenge associated with a specific country, region, or population, as increased wars, military conflicts, and economic factors, among others, have led to intensified global movement and flight that is no longer represented by only by movement from the South to the North. This has made understandings of citizenship, integration, and schooling of newcomers central to receiving governments and universities worldwide. However, despite its importance to both individuals and host countries, little attention has been paid to the accessibility, obstacles, and opportunities for higher education for migrants and refugees in their receiving countries. This book provides a wide picture of different world regions, including Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North America to highlight theories, policies, and practices in higher education for migrants and refugees across organizational and individual levels.

The book consists of 19 chapters, which are divided into sections based on theoretical and conceptual understandings, policies and practices, and individual experiences. In the introduction, the editors set forth several goals for this volume, including to “fill... gaps in knowledge and practice, [trace] the potential and dilemmas involved in providing higher education for various displaced and migrating populations in different countries, while also pointing out possible strategies and solutions to help their integration in an ever-changing world” (p. 12). These goals are further refined by the research questions:

(a) How do higher education institutions in different parts of the world deal with the challenges that refugee and migrant students face on their way to higher education; and (b) What are the models and tools used to deal with the challenges, barriers, and problems faced by this group of students? (p. 12)

Chapters in this book seek to empirically address these questions by providing examples from policy, higher education leadership, and from migrant and refugee students’ experiences.

Each chapter in Section One (Chapters One through Six) provides an understanding of current definitions and situations for migrants, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers around the world. These chapters highlight that understandings of migrants, immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers are as varied as the individuals themselves. While this information may be a review for those already familiar with these issues, these chapters provide a foundational and conceptual background to inform the research presented in Sections Two and Three. Consisting primarily of reviews and secondary research, the chapters in Section One provide macro-level and international perspectives on refugees and higher education. Chapters in Section I specifically cover topics of education policy, social inclusion, leadership, and brain drain and gain in the contexts of North America and Africa. 

The second part of the book consists of Chapters Seven through Twelve and focuses on different countries’ situations, policies, and practices. Chapters in Section Two focus on Germany, the United States, the Czech Republic, Iceland, and Turkey, and specifically include refugees from Syria, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Each chapter begins by contextually describing the refugee situation, including statistical details as well as descriptions of how each country has reacted to such newcomers. These details are especially informative and relevant to readers exploring this issue in contexts with which they may be unfamiliar.

The chapters in this second section include a wide range of topics and perspectives, including the role of higher education in the lives of refugees and migrants, university responses at both the administrative and policy levels, the “Trump effect” on Latinx students’ STEM aspirations, oppressors and oppression, collective guilt, and “non-traditional” (im)migrant students. While these chapters relied heavily on qualitative methods, especially interviews, they represent diverse conceptual frameworks. Critical theory, Critical Race Theory, Bourdieu’s social capital theory, as well as aspirational, linguistic, and familial capital, were used to frame the research presented in Section Two. The diversity in topics and frameworks is a strength of this section as it ties back into the framing questions presented in the introduction. The chapters in Section Two demonstrate that there are numerous perspectives, experiences, policies, and practices under the broader topic of higher education for refugees and migrants.

The third section (Chapters Thirteen through Nineteen) outlines individual experiences of refugees related to accessing higher education in different countries. These seven chapters include research on refugees from Syria, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands in the former USSR, the United States, Kenya, Austria, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Jordan. Similar to Section Two, the chapters in this section rely predominantly on qualitative methods, including participatory research methods, ethnographic research, and narrative inquiry. Themes include the importance of relationships, lived educational experiences in refugee camps, perseverance, and structural violence, and are considered through the frameworks of persistence theories, standpoint theory, and philosophical hermeneutics. While studies on refugees and higher education are underrepresented in the research, an even more neglected area of research is that of refugee women and higher education, as these experiences are typically described from a male perspective (Damaschke-Deitrick et al., 2019; Galegher, 2020). This section, particularly Chapters Fifteen and Eighteen highlight individual perspectives of female refugees. 

One challenge of a large edited volume such as this is ensuring that all chapters make independent and unique contributions to both the work and the larger body of literature while also being thematically connected. From the outset, the chapters included in this volume are presented as a compilation of policies and practices related to the integration of migrants and refugees from and into education systems around the world. However, aside from these thematic similarities, the chapters are quite diverse in terms of context, focus, and conceptual frameworks. 

Qualitative methods, including interviews, ethnographic approaches, and secondary data analysis are widely used across the chapters. While not necessarily a strength or weakness of the volume, it does stand in contrast to the diversity exhibited in other aspects of the chapters. The reliance on qualitative methods could be due to the limited research on refugees and higher education; many authors described challenges associated with identifying refugee and migrant students, as this information may not be tracked at the institutional level. This area of research is still fairly new, which may also limit the availability of quantitative data. Additionally, in seeking to describe the how and what of the models and tools to address challenges, barriers, and problems, the editors may have sought to include chapters which include the depth allowed by qualitative studies.

The diversity of perspectives and contexts in this volume increases its potential audience. The first section is particularly relevant for those looking for a broad introduction to current understandings and implications related to higher education for refugees and migrants, as well as organizational and theoretical perspectives on policies and practices related to migrant and refugee integration. The individual and organizational research contained in Sections Two and Three are especially relevant to those with intersecting research contexts and topics. While the extensive scope and diversity of the chapters provide a broad overview of issues facing refugees regarding higher education, academics and researchers may select those most relevant to their ongoing projects and research. Overall, the chapters in this volume provide examples of how policymakers, educational leaders, and practitioners can support refugees and other migrants’ integration into universities and other higher education institutions.

Higher Education Challenges for Migrant and Refugee Students in a Global World focuses on the individual experiences and institutional policies at the intersection of refugees and higher education, and in doing so addresses an under-researched area in the fields of education, sociology, and migration studies. While access to and support throughout higher education are important for both individual migrants and refugees and the societies they are joining for civic and economic purposes, such opportunities are also positive for individuals’ socio-emotional well-being, as well as beneficial to the lives of students’ family and friends (Ramsay & Baker, 2019). In the introduction, the authors seek to present models and practices to support refugee and migrant students in university settings, and the extensive diversity of contexts, topics, and theories employed throughout the chapters further emphasizes the unique and distinctive needs of different populations in different contexts. While contributing extensively to a gap in the literature, this text also highlights the importance of ensuring migrants and refugees have access supports throughout higher education that are tailored to fit their specific contexts and needs. This text highlights that while migrants and refugees may have some similarity across experiences related to trauma, identity, and language, each experience is unique and must be met with a response that addresses that particular context. There is no one size fits all approach to higher education for migrants and refugees. 


Ferede, M. (2018). Higher education for refugees [2019 Global Education Monitoring Report Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls]. UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000266075/PDF/266075eng.pdf.multi

Ramsay, G., & Baker, S. (2019). Higher education and students from refugee backgrounds: A meta-scoping study. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 38(1), 55–82.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 11, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23565, Date Accessed: 1/24/2021 1:41:12 PM

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About the Author
  • Petrina Davidson

    E-mail Author
    PETRINA M. DAVIDSON, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and consultant. She has worked across education levels, starting as a classroom teacher, moving into curriculum and leadership, and teaching at the university and graduate levels. Her Ph.D. is in Comparative & International Education from Lehigh University and her M.S. is in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership with an emphasis on Curriculum & Instruction from Oklahoma State University. Her research interests include international education policy, teacher training and professional development for teachers of immigrants and refugees, peace and nonviolence education, and post-genocide education.
    Recent publications include:
    The intricate web of educational governance: The cyborg dialectic and commodification of knowledge. In Salajan, F. & Tavis J. (Eds.). The educational intelligent economy: Big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the internet of things in education, Emerald Publishing 2020 (jointly with Damaschke-Deitrick, L. & Bruce, E.).
    The rhythmic application of evidence-based policy in national educational systems worldwide. In A.W. Wiseman & P.M. Davidson (Eds.) Cross-nationally comparative, evidence-based educational policymaking and reform international perspectives on education and society, volume 35, Emerald Publishing Group 2018 (jointly with Wiseman, A.W.).
  • Lisa Damaschke-Deitrick
    University of Tübingen
    E-mail Author
    LISA DAMASCHKE-DEITRICK, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer and researcher at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Prior, she worked as a professor of practice of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. She holds a doctorate in Social Sciences from the Institute of Political Science / University of Tübingen and a M.Sc. in International Relations from the Free University Amsterdam. In her research, she analyzes international and European education policies in a comparative perspective. Her main research areas include education policies for refugee and immigrant students, refugee women and higher education, scientization of education and educational poverty policies and programs for school dropouts.
    Recent publications include:
    Migration, refugees, and public education. In Jornitz, S. & Wilmers, A. (Eds.), Transatlantic perspectives on education research. Barbara Budrich Publishers 2020 (jointly with Wiseman, A.W.).
    Comparative perspectives on refugee youth education. Routledge Publishers, Research in international and comparative education series 2019 (co-edited with Wiseman, A.W., Galegher, E. & Park, M.).
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