Protection considerations

As a potential or active scholarship provider, whether from a government, institution or the private sector, there are a number of considerations that can help to ensure the scholarship programme anticipates and addresses the protection needs some refugees face.

UNHCR recommends scholarship programmes that meet the following basic requirements:

  • Non-discrimination/equitable access– Scholarship eligibility is fair and impartial. Applicants are not disadvantaged based on religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or other characteristics.
  • Provide access to functioning asylum procedures and protection from refoulement­– Refugee students should not find themselves in a situation of forced return or statelessness once their studies are completed due to expired residency permits, lack of access to asylum procedures or inability to support themselves.
  • Offered by a nationally accredited institution – Scholarship programme must be offered by a recognized academic institution and result in a widely-recognized and transferable degree or certificate.
  • Adhere to data protection principles Providers refrain from the use or sharing of personal data with any external party or used for any purpose other than the identification and selection of student participants, unless permission has been granted by the refugee student.

In addition, there are two different ways in which you can offer scholarships to refugees: scholarships can be offered at institutions in the country where refugees have been granted asylum or scholarships can be offered that assist refugees to undertake tertiary studies in a country other than the one where they have been granted asylum. Special considerations apply to each:

Considerations when providing scholarships in the country of asylum



  • Ensure that participation in the education programme does not jeopardize the legal status or negatively affect the protection space for refugees in the country.
  • Reach out to secondary students and inform them about scholarship opportunities. The prospect of higher education opportunities fosters retention at primary and secondary level (explain this more)
  • Negotiate availability of places in academic institutions in host countries with Ministries of Education and other competent bodies to ensure host country agreement and support, and so as not to overload host institution capacity.
  • Accreditation and programme equivalency recognition is arranged with the authorities of the host country to ensure that students obtain a widely recognized and transferrable degree upon completion.
  • Documentation requirements for admission to the programme are lowered or lifted to avoid putting at risk candidates whose documentation may not be readily accessible.
  • Engage with existing coordination mechanisms on (higher) education for refugee students.
  • Anticipate the need to provide financial support to families of students that are found to be socio-economically vulnerable or where students’ enrolment in a full-time university course will impact family stability.
  • Manage expectations to minimize possible tensions within the refugee community, or with humanitarian/development actors, over the limited places available.

A helpful reference are UNHCR’s DAFI policy and guidelines


Considerations when providing scholarships in a third country


  • What legal status will students have in country of study? What limitations apply?
  • Should a refugee student decide to apply for asylum in the country of study, will this affect their student status and related benefits? What support will students need with visa and travel documents?
  • What happens if a student fails or drops out for any reason?
  • What mentoring, academic or psycho-social support is provided?
  • Is the student able/allowed to obtain (additional) qualifications required for the completion of studies (e.g. internships)?
  • What options for employment in the country of study are available upon graduation?
  • May family members accompany the refugee student? What is their legal status and how is their income ensured?
  • What legal and administrative preparations will be necessary for the students’ return to their country of asylum or their country of origin, if it is possible to return?
  • What safeguards are in place to mitigate protection risks, such as forced returns due to cessation of legal status, lack of required documentation, or other legal/ administrative obstacles?

Please consult our Higher Education Considerations for Refugees in Countries Affected by the Syria and Iraq Crises for more information.

Special considerations for third country scholarship providers in the MENA region

Scholarship programmes for refugees in the MENA region must anticipate and plan for the fact that in most cases refugees are not permitted to re-enter the country of asylum once they have departed, even if they plan to leave for a temporary period of study. In light of the prohibition on return to the country of asylum, refugee students must have means to ensure their legal status and ability to support themselves once the period of study has ended. The impact of prolonged separation from family and options for family reunification should also be taken into consideration.

UNHCR country offices can often assist in advertising scholarship programmes and identifying refugee applicants for programmes that meet the above factors. UNHCR can also assist potential or active scholarship providers in developing programmes that adequately anticipate the range of issues refugee students may face during application, selection, departure, study and post-graduation periods. The range of questions outlined below should be addressed prior to announcing or implementing a scholarship programme. Please contact UNHCR for assistance with any of these issues.