2020 PIEoneer Awards honors IIE PEER Bridge Scholarship Initiative

Graphic image from The PIE announcing the IIE  PEER Bridge Scholarship received the "Championing diversity award" of highly commended.

On October 3, 2020 the winners of the 2020 PIEoneer Awards were announced at a virtual ceremony broadcast from London recognizing outstanding achievements in international education. We at IIE are proud to have received the “Highly Commended” runner-up honors in the category “Championing Diversity & Inclusion” by the panel of judges for IIE PEER’s work with displaced Myanmar youth.

IIE was the only U.S. organization shortlisted in this category alongside six other finalists from the UK, Canada, Malaysia, and India, with Katalyst India taking home the top award. Winners and runner-ups were selected by a distinguished panel of 38 international education specialists tasked with judging nominees across 18 categories.

IIE PEER Bridge Scholarship

We are often asked, “What is the IIE PEER Bridge Scholarship?” This is a great question and the answer begins with the term displaced students. IIE PEER and our partner organizations define “displaced student” as a person who has been uprooted from their home through no fault of own, resulting in (among other things) the inability to access higher education opportunities.

For this scholarship initative, IIE’s Southeast Asia Office in Bangkok has been working with displaced Myanmar youth along the Thai-Myanmar border. The longstanding unrest in Myanmar, which has been described as the world’s longest running civil war, has created a generation’s worth of complex issues and a critical mass of those impacted along the country’s border with Thailand. In close partnership with local NGOs along the border region who provide informal schooling to those displaced, IIE PEER works to identify Myanmar youth who aspire to complete a university undergraduate degree. In addition to this drive, we look for young people who show evidence of academic aptitude, character, determination, and overall resilience.

For these students, IIE PEER awards a Bridge Scholarship that provides for the upfront costs of enrolling in a university degree program. In addition, we provide the students with advising expertise, logistical support, and facilitate offers of full tuition scholarships within a network of university partners in Asia.

Why This Matters

In tandem with the longstanding issues regarding Myanmar mentioned above, the significance of this type of work was highlighted by UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education when the IIE PEER Bridge Scholarship first began:

The Asia-Pacific is home to the most undocumented labour migrants as well as the largest group of refugees and displaced people of any region in the world. The challenges are monumental, with quality and inclusive education fundamental to assuring the health and well-being of people and our societies as a whole. It is also clear these challenges can only be met through cooperation involving stakeholders at every level (Bangkok Post, 2018).

As such, while our initiative is relatively small, it is a significant demonstration of the higher education community’s ability to make an impact on a large and complex issue. Unfortunately, forced displacement is predicted to grow in the coming years, however our hope is that this IIE PEER initiative will inspire more universities to deeper engagement in a global effort.

To highlight the difference the PEER Bridge Scholarship is having on the lives of our grantees, we conducted a series of interviews that evidenced the following impact:

  • Most awardees described feeling at a loss before learning of the IIE PEER Bridge Scholarship explaining their financial need and lack of opportunities available to them.
  • All grantees believe they would not have been able to continue their studies and progress to a higher education program without the financial support from the PEER Bridge Scholarship.
  • All PEER Bridge Scholarship students are committed to returning to and giving back to their home communities, aspiring to serve their communities through social work, care for the environment, and pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities.

Once again, IIE PEER is honored to have received “Highly Commended” honors by the judges at this year’s PIEoneer Awards. Our hope is that this will bring greater visibility to the challenges facing displaced youth and encourage the higher education community to greater action.

Selected quotes from IIE-conducted interviews of current grantees:
  • When I was rejected from the [other] scholarship, I was physically and mentally broken… then I heard from IIE that I got the scholarship, and it was amazing. – 2019 IIE PEER Bridge Award recipient, name withheld for reasons of confidentiality.
  • Attending [an] international university is the greatest opportunity that I ever had…. In my dormitory, I get electricity for 24 hours, high security system, washing machines are ready for all of us, and we have a choice for using elevator or stairs. – 2019 IIE PEER Bridge Award recipient, name withheld for reasons of confidentiality.