Topic briefing


Published 27 July 2020

The issue

Refugees face significant barriers to successful participation in higher education, including a lack of certainty over immigration status, tuition fee concerns, language and cultural barriers and issues around validating previous qualifications.

This means that those with the academic potential to participate in higher education are often unable to access and benefit from it.

Key facts

According to a 2018 Universities UK report:

  1. There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world: this is almost 1 per cent of the global population, and equivalent to the population of the UK.
  2. Only 1 per cent of displaced people are in higher education.
  3. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the number of displaced children under 18 to be approximately 33 million, with a further 6.5 million young people aged 19-26. This means that there are almost 40 million young people worldwide who are likely to be missing out on education, other opportunities for personal fulfilment, and economic advancement.


According to the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone who:

‘Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’.

We are actively exploring the possibility of broadening this definition in our requirements of providers. This is because the legal definition of ‘refugee’ does not capture all those in need of support, which may also include a broad spectrum of people categorised as forced migrants and in particular unaccompanied asylum seeking children.  

Published 27 July 2020

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