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Higher education’s role in assisting refugee communities: Lessons from History

Higher education’s role in assisting refugee communities:  Lessons from History

The ongoing refugee crisis unfolding across Europe has many commentators speaking of the “unprecedented” nature of problems facing national authorities, with many struggling to find a solution to dealing with the increasing influx of refugees.

However, a new policy paper – Student solidarity across borders: Students, universities and refugee crises past and present – published by History & Policy highlights historic contributions made by the higher education sector in assisting refugees – be it Jewish émigrés escaping Nazism, or political dissidents fleeing the Pinochet regime – to escape conflict zones and successfully complete their education.

Whilst drawing on examples from across Europe, the report argues that the UK’s Higher Education sector, which currently comprises 161 institutions and over 2 million students, is particularly well placed to respond to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War with a bold new aid programme. “I was moved to write this paper after seeing the news reports of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere arriving in Europe over the summer”, Dr. Georgina Brewis, author of the report, explains: “In previous refugee crises, special assistance for students formed part of overall humanitarian efforts, and those helped to complete their education have given back far more than they ever received in aid. Many students and student organisations are keen to help the refugees and it is my hope that this paper will provide useful insights from past experiences.”

The author of the report, Dr Georgina Brewis is Senior Lecturer in the History of Education at UCL Institute of Education, University College London. She is a historian of education, youth and voluntary action and a founder of the Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives. She is the author of A Social History of Student Volunteering: Britain and Beyond, 1880-1980 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

History and Policy is a unique collaboration between the Institute of Contemporary British History at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge. It is the only project in the UK providing access to an international network of more than 500 historians with a broad range of expertise. It offers a range of resources for historians, policy makers and journalists. For all enquiries, please contact Billy Davis, Public Affairs Manager at historyandpolicy<at>

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