Empowering Refugees through training and funding – Monash University Malaysia (Part 1 of 2)

The School of Business at Monash University Malaysia has been actively engaged for several years now in programmes aimed at assisting and empowering Refugees through capacity building, funding and partnerships with multiple organisations. In this two part post, I spoke with Priya Sharma, Coordinator and PRME Ambassador at Monash University Malaysia to look first at the School’s programmes to educate refugees and in the second more about a fund to support refugee community-based organisations, both in collaboration with multiple partners including the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Provide some background about the urban refugee population in Malaysia

Malaysia is home to one of the largest urban refugee populations. According to the latest UNHCR statistics, Malaysia hosts over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Most of them (90%) are from Myanmar, and the others are from diverse countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Urban settings pose a host of real and difficult challenges for refugees, in particular refugee children. In Malaysia especially, refugee children and youth do not have access to institutionalized schools and thus obtain education via an informal parallel system of community-based learning centres.

What is CERTE and how it came about?

CERTE stands for Connecting and Equipping Refugees For Tertiary Education. It is a task force that aims to support young adult refugees in accessing tertiary education opportunities through knowledge and resource sharing, a bridge course, school readiness preparation, and mentorship. The task force is supported by Open Universities for Refugees (OUR) and UNHCR Malaysia and Teach for Refugees (T4R). It’s mission is to provide quality education to refugees globally and international universities in Malaysia. CERTE Malaysia was established during the OUR-UNHCR 3 C Forum-5/6 -August 2016- in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and is led by Jessica Chapman, Managing Director of T4R and Dr. Robin Duncan from OUR. The 2nd session for 2018 will be held at Monash University Malaysia in October and is supported by the PRME team in the School of Business.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

The aim of CERTE is to identify refugees who can demonstrate the motivation and academic potential to access further education and to equip and empower them to gain a place at university or college. The course is run over 3 weeks, during weekdays so that the refugee students are exposed to university campus life. Through this course, students are equipped with the basic knowledge of the application process of higher education institutes; have a better understanding of areas of knowledge and different academic disciplines; develop basic research skills in writing and presentations. On the last day, a graduation ceremony is held and a certificate of completion is awarded to the students by Richard Towle, UNHCR’s country representative in Malaysia. This certificate not only endorses their participation but also serves as a unique stepping stone to future learning opportunities in Malaysia or elsewhere. In addition, students who successfully complete the course are given the opportunity to sign-up for a continued mentorship program that will provide continued support in their university application process.

Who are the students?

Fifteen refugee youth from different refugee communities across Kuala Lumpur are selected through an interview process. They are Rohingyas, Sudanese, Yemenis, Pakistanis, and Middle Easterns. They have completed their IGCSC or certain level of academic qualification from their home country but had to leave their country in a haste. Their education is abruptly halted and are unable to continue in Malaysia due to their status. Since this program, the students have taken part in other initiatives to improve their education, like online learning and education-focused projects initiated by T4R.

What have been some of the challenges? 

One of the major challenges is that the CERTE bridge course does not guarantee admission into universities. In addition, due to conditions by which the refugees leave their country, most often they do not possess the necessary documentation needed for access to education, informal or otherwise. One suggestion is to perhaps seek the assistance and collaboration of respective embassies to find ways to overcome this issue.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

We think this is an important initiative. Having other institutions take on similar initiatives will have a strong impact on the community. It takes education to another level by engaging with a vulnerable sector of the community and offering it to children and youth. This is crucial as refugee children and youth most often have their education disrupted. A lack of education can disempower those who need an opportunity the most and can lead to extreme poverty for generations. Education is often a lifesaving intervention that offers protection and preserves their futures. Although a temporary predicament, providing education through workshops and trainings like these instill a positive attitude, gives them hope and prepares them for future opportunities. It is therefore crucial to supply them with information that will allow them to explore the world and use the full capacity of their brains while maintaining their interest and enthusiasm.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are continuing with this initiative for the next batch of refugee students and youth. Meanwhile, this initiative has also sparked a conversation and discussion within the senior management of the University on access to education through various platforms and scholarships. A working committee has been established to discuss ways of achieving this and overcoming the challenges and obstacles faced.

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