New Philanthropy Will Support Universal Education

  • John Sexton to Announce Formation of Catalyst Trust, supported by Gordon Brown
  • New web-based clearinghouse will connect refugee and internally displaced students to scholarships and educational opportunities around the world

NEW YORK, September 22, 2016—Students and scholars in Syria and many other parts of the world have been abruptly cut off from educational opportunities by war, persecution, and violence engulfing their homes. More than 57 million children worldwide do not have access to school, and current conflicts and refugee crises are hitting school and university-aged youth particularly hard.

Speaking at an event at the Institute of International Education’s New York headquarters today, former NYU president John Sexton announced the creation of the Catalyst Trust for Universal Education to address these emergency needs.

The Catalyst Trust’s first major initiative will be to join together with IIE to create the Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (PEER), a new global clearinghouse to identify scholarships and opportunities and connect displaced and refugee students with resources they can use, anywhere in the world. IIE president Allan Goodman joined Mr. Sexton to announce the new project and lead a discussion with Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the United Nations special envoy on global education, of how education, government and philanthropic leaders can help meet the emergency needs.The new trust will support projects and organizations that bring educational opportunities directly to the neediest children and youth, whether they live in a conflict zone, a refugee camp, or a place that lacks the means or ability to provide a meaningful education.

According to a recent UNHCR report, only 50 per cent of refugees have access to primary education, as opposed to the global average of 90 percent. Sadly, the enrollment gap only grows with age: twenty-two percent of refugees are enrolled in secondary schools, compared with a global average of 84 percent, and an alarming one per cent of refugees attend university, compared to the global average of 34 percent. These numbers are particularly tragic for Syria, a country that, before the war, had school and university enrollment rates as high as or higher than the global average. In the context of global education, the needs of Syrian students are urgent and acute.

The PEER clearinghouse will build on the resources that IIE has leveraged over the past five years through its Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis. Catalyst is providing the initial investment in PEER with the goal that governments and other donors will join the effort to expand its reach to refugees and displaced people at all levels of education and in all world regions.

When the conflict in Syria started more than five years ago, over a quarter of the country’s 18-24 year olds were already enrolled in tertiary education. Now 4 million Syrian children are out of school, including at least 150,000 university-qualified Syrians who were enrolled in university or on track to do so when war broke out. Humanitarian relief organizations are so overwhelmed that less than 2 percent of funds raised today are being spent on education at any level.

A web-based, mobile-ready platform in both English and Arabic, PEER will offer students access to a comprehensive database of education and scholarship opportunities and application guidelines, as well as other important resources such as online courses and MOOCs, translation services, and education advocacy groups, and connect students with personalized advising services. Bringing together so many disparate resources into one platform is an essential step on the path to helping millions of students worldwide access the tools they will need to build their future and rebuild their communities.

Donor governments, NGOs, foundations, and volunteer efforts by educational institutions are trying to address gaps, but refugee and internally displaced students at all levels often find access to opportunities largely by serendipity. More often, those seeking to help are frustrated by the lack of comprehensive resources. They labor unaware of parallel efforts by others and thereby are unable to capture the programmatic advantages and efficiencies of coordination and common enterprise.

Mr. Sexton, a higher education leader known for his vision for the global university, and a founding director of the Catalyst Trust, said, “If they have school, the displaced students can turn their lives around. Many in the higher education community have indicated that they are willing to accept refugee students. We aim to provide them with the education they deserve."

Mr. Brown, who launched the "Education Cannot Wait Fund" in May at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, has been an outspoken advocate for keeping students from countries in crisis in education and is serving as an advisor to the new Trust.

“Currently, in every humanitarian crisis and conflict zone, schooling for refugees falls through the net – caught between humanitarian aid, which inevitably focuses on survival, and ordinary development aid which is allocated years in advance, said Mr. Brown. “As a result, 25 million of the world’s out-of-school children – almost half of all children denied schooling – are in conflict zones. Without help to continue education in emergencies there is no chance of ever reaching the goal of universal education.”

IIE’s history of providing emergency assistance to students and scholars facing threats and danger spans nearly 100 years. Its response to the ongoing conflict in Syria and other countries in crisis, including the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis, the IIE Emergency Student Fund, and the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund, continues this legacy.

Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Institute of International Education, remarked, “As the crisis multiplies, there is a real prospect of a lost generation. We must not let that happen. IIE’s new partnership with the Catalyst Trust to build the PEER clearinghouse is a tremendously valuable breakthrough in connecting displaced students with resources anywhere in the world.”

This year, with private support, IIE is launching a new scholarship fund that will support a total of 65 Syrian students through full scholarships or emergency grants for living expenses. IIE’s Syria Consortium has mobilized higher education institutions to reduce or waive tuition for Syrian students who would enroll for full degrees, and IIE joined with Jusoor to create a new scholarship fund, 100 Syrian Women, 10,000 Syrian Lives earlier this month; nine students started their studies in the United States in fall of 2016.

The PEER clearinghouse will add assistance and opportunities for K-12 (primary and secondary) students, with the long term goal of expanding to help students at all levels displaced by conflict from anywhere in the world. PEER will link together and amplify the important efforts of many international organizations and partners of IIE that are working to provide educational opportunities to Syrian students, including the Global Platform for Syrian Students, DAAD, British Council, Coursera for Refugees and Spark, among others.


About the Catalyst Trust for Universal Education

The Catalyst Trust for Universal Education works to expand access to high-quality education for children and youth around the world. It provides catalytic funding for educational projects that advance its goal of a world where every single child goes to school and receives a meaningful education. Together with its partners, Catalyst works to support the creation of structures and materials necessary to achieve this goal, and advocate for the increased government and private sector support from around the world, which is urgently required to address the global education crisis.

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE) is the leader in providing international education strategies and program services. Our international approach to education—diverse, borderless, impactful—is a proven way for governments and companies to invest in global talent and solidify overseas relationships. We work with policymakers, educators and employers across the globe to prepare students and professionals for the global workforce and equip them to solve the increasingly complex challenges facing our interconnected world. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide, including in New Delhi, and over 1,400 member institutions.