Wider Advocacy

“Education not only saves lives in emergencies, but it also sustains life by giving a sense of hope for the future”


Taking into consideration that, on the one hand, global forced displacement of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers worldwide exceed 50 million people at the end of 2014; and that, on the other hand, the average conflict lasts 10 years and families remain in IDP camps for an average of 17 years, the failure to prioritize education in general, and higher education in particular in humanitarian response renders entire generations uneducated, developmentally disadvantaged and unprepared to contribute to their society’s recovery.

Higher education unleashes innovation and entrepreneurial skills that are important for economic activity and job creation elements critical for stability during times of reconstruction and for longer-term sustainable development. But this broader context of early recovery, in crisis and post-crisis settings, in order to build a stronger foundation for sustained recovery from crises in the long-term and to consolidate peace by preventing a relapse into conflict should be set up from day one of the humanitarian agenda. Why?

Because education sustains life by offering safe spaces for learning and by making it possible to identify and support seriously affected individuals, particularly children and youth. As studies clearly show education mitigates the psychoso¬cial impact of conflict and disasters by providing a sense of normalcy, stability, structure and hope for the future. Quality education can save lives by providing physical protection from the dangers and exploitation of a crisis environment.

In this regard, higher education plays a vital role in saving lives and giving a sense of hope for the future in the context of emergencies. It is higher education that will produce the leaders and skilled workforce that countries need to move forward, in particular after crisis and conflict.

Yet in humanitarian crises, higher education is too often neglected. Based on best practices and lessons learned with recent crises, namely with Iraq and Syria, there are a key number of questions that have to be addressed if we want to bridge the existing gap such as: how to integrate higher education opportunities into humanitarian responses? How to best coordinate interventions of actors on the ground? How to make financial resources available on time? How to organize and coordinate efforts for the effective implementation of quality programs of higher education during the emergency response?


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What are the challenges universities face in conflict zones? To know more read the article: Universities in conflict zones: 'we face intimidation and arrests', by Louise Tickle, The Guardian.



International Conference on Higher Education in Emergencies 

16-17 December 2014 | Brussels, Belgium



  Brussels Higher Education in Emergencies December 2014 06     GPSS Brussels 01     GPSS Brussels 03  




In December 2014, an international Conference was co-organized by a set of stakeholders - the Council of Europe, the British Council, the League of Arab States, the Institute of International Education and the Global Platform for Syrian Students – to draw attention to the urgent need to reflect further on these key questions. 

This Conference hosted by the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, brought together more than 100 participants from all walks of life – civil society organizations, Universities and associations of universities, international organizations, government representatives, aid and cooperation agencies, and the private sector - engaged in and committed to promoting higher education, in particular in emergency situations.

It explored the vital role of higher education in saving lives and giving a sense of hope for the future in the context of emergencies. Using the current Syrian crisis as an example, this ground-breaking Conference aimed to solidify a series of recommendations that may pave the way for some type of Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict. The central idea is that, in humanitarian crises, education and in particular higher education is too often neglected. And yet, it is higher education that will produce the leaders and skilled workforce that countries need to move forward, in particular after crisis and conflict.

This Conference was planned as a starting point of a broader process that will continue in 2015 with a two-fold aim:
•    On the one hand, to put higher education high on the post-2015 development agenda because missing this opportunity will mean that no real progress on the ground will be made in the next fifteen years. Exploring the various entry-points possibilities and making a strong advocacy campaign are top priority actions.
•    On the other hand, further reflection on the international responsibility of protecting and rebuilding higher education in emergencies should continue. Exploring ways of making the international community endorse a call to action or a set of principles or hopefully commit to set up a rapid response mechanism for higher education in emergencies are questions that need to be further discussed and explored. Its inclusion in the post-2015 agenda should also be sought.


Annex: What Will Become of Syria's Students and Scholars?By Allan E. Goodman (President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute of International Education) and Jorge Sampaio (President of the Portuguese Republic from 1996 to 2006; Chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Students).


List of Participants

Speakers´ Biographies



Follow Up Events


The year of 2015 marked good progress in terms of advocacy made by the GP4SYS at the international stage to raise awareness about the unique role higher education plays in conflict situations and the need for the international community to deliver more higher education opportunities for refugees, IDPs and young people facing crisis situations.

Following up on a first meeting convened in Brussels in December 2014, over 2015 the GP4SYS participated in a number of international meetings on the topic of higher education in emergencies, developed contacts at various levels to promote this cause, notably at political level through the leadership of President Sampaio, chairman of the GP4SYS, and launched a number of studies gathering information and data on higher education in emergencies.



  • EU/EEAS Seminar on Syria held in Brussels in January 2015.
  • The British Council organised a workshop on “Higher Education in Emergency Environments” within its annual Conference Going Global (1-2 June 2015).
  • From its side, the University of York organised in July 2015 a high level workshop aimed at developing an International Accord for the protection and rebuilding of higher education affected by conflict, crisis and transitions.
  • The Clinton Global Initiative organised a discussion on "Beyond Shelter, Water, and Food: Prioritizing Education in Emergency Response" (2015 September, 29) in the framework of its Annual Meeting 2015
  • A High-Level Breakfast Meeting on: "Ensuring the Inclusion of the Right to Education in Emergencies in the Post-2015 Development Agenda" was organised by the Permanent Missions of Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, and Qatar to the UNwhich took place on Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at the United Nations HQ, New York.
  • Moreover, the GP4SYS participated in the Wise Summit organised in Doha in November 2015 by sending a video address. 



  • During the Ignite 2016 Conference on "Tackling Instability, Radicalisation and Forced Migration" organised by SPARK in Amsterdam, the GP4SYS participated in several debates and workshops focused on how to tackle root causes of instability, radicalisation and forced migration in Africa, the EU and the Middle East with special attention given to the role of entrepreneurship, higher education and leadership in fragile states.



  • Meeting on the follow-up of the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants 2016, 23 January 2017 in Washington at the State Department, USA.
  • Workshops co-organised by the OECD, WBG and CMI on "Strengthening human resources for health, integrating refugees into host communities health systems" on 29 - 30 March 2017. 
  • On 7th October 2017, the Secretary General of the GP4SYS participated at the Symposium of Syrian Amercian Medical Society held in New York (USA). The symposium focused on the theme of A Call to Action for Future Syria: A Coalition on Education and Research.The GP4SYS made a presentation on Building a Coalition on establishing and coordinating Medical residency programs in Syria.
  • At the end of the year, from 13 to 16 December 2017, the Global Platform attended the WISE Summit held in Doha (Qatar) focused on "Syrian´s Journey towards Higher Education Access". 



International Conference on "Higher Education in Emergencies: Doing More, Better and Faster"

05 April 2018, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation | Lisbon, Portugal

With the aim of setting up a Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies, the Global Platform for Syrian Students organised an "International Conference on Higher Education in Emergencies: Doing More, Better and Faster" with the support of the Portuguese Governement. The conference brought together more than 300 participants included high-level governement representatives and experts.

Check-out the following documents: 


HEiE 05.04.2018


In 2018, the GP4SYS also participated in the following events on higher education in emergencies:

  • In the framework of the United Nations General Assembly, the Global Platform for Syrian Students in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Portugal and Jordan, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI) and Education Cannot Wait (ECW) organised a high-level side event aimed at discussing strategies for investing in and accelerating the scale of innovations in emergency education. The aim of this high-level side event was to discuss strategies for investing in and accelerating the scale of innovations in emergency education. The event took place on 24 September 2018 at United Nations Headquarters. Watch the event here.
  • In October 2018, the Global Platform for Syrian Students presented the Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies to the participants of the Education for Shared Societies Policy Dialogue organised by Club de Madrid in Lisbon on 16 and 17 October 2018



  • With the aim of consolidating our advocacy role in promoting higher education in emergencies and boosting higher education opportunities for refugees and students in forced mobility, the GP4SYS actively participated in 16 national and international events in 2019.
  • Advocacy actions to boost higher education op-portunities in emergencies gained traction over 2019. GP4SYS actively participated in prepara-tory meetings in the lead up to the 1st Global Refugee Forum organized by the UNHCR in Geneva on 17-18 December 2019. Further-more, together with the Ministry of Foreign Af-fairs, GP4SYS submitted a joint pledge at the Forum aimed at implementing the RRM and increasing the number of scholarships to be awarded in 2020.
  • 2019 marked a turning point in the UNHCR’s interest in and commitment to promoting higher education for refugees. It promoted sever-al meeting on this topic in the lead up to the Global Forum and announced the new target of “15/30” aiming at reaching 15 per cent of refugees having access to tertiary education by 2030.
  • In March, the Portuguese Parliament approved by unanimity a general appraisal of the GP4SYS.
  • The McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award was awarded to Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and to Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal and Chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Stu-dents, by Refugee International for their work in the promotion of higher education oppor-tunities for Syrian students. The ceremony took place on 30 April 2019 in Washington, D.C., in the framework of the celebration of Refugees International’s 40th anniversary.
  • The Global Platform for Syrian Students was also distinguished by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with the IIE Centennial Medal.
  • At the Paris Peace Forum (November 2019), the RRM was selected among 700 projects to be show-cased and was recognized among 104 projects as a potential initiative to be scaled-up worldwide and incubated in 2020 together with other 9 projects.
  • The preparation of a new edition of a survey on Higher Education in Emergencies was launched with a view to being released in 2020 in a follow up workshop on the International Conference held in 2018. The new revised and expanded edition of Higher Education in Emergencies is available here and includes new data and proposes a roadmap to achieve the 315/30 goal to be launched in 2020.
  • More information about other important events were the GP4SYS participated in 2019 are detailed in our annual report 2019.



International Workshop on "Higher Education in Emergencies: Doing More, Better and Faster"

20 January 2020, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation | Lisbon, Portugal

The International Workshop was built upon the momentum generated by the conference organised by the Global Platform in Lisbon in April 2018 as well as on the commitments made in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda and the Global Compacts for Refugees and Migrants as well as the first Global Refugee Forum to be held in Geneva on 17 and 18 December 2019. The workshop aimed to promote collective efforts to achieve a systemic solution to the problem of delivering more, better and faster higher education opportunities for refugees, students at risk or in forced displacement. It sought to generate greater mobilization of the higher education sector to contributing to deliver a true global academic response to the equally global challenge of empowering young people through quality higher education, in particular in conflict-affected societies, fragile settings and protracted crises.


HEiE 20.01.2020



Side Event to the Brussels V Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”



In 2014 Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, launched an emergency scholarship programme for Syrian students caught in the crisis to enable them to complete their higher education. This pioneer multi-stake-holders initiative brought together a number of private and public international donors and partners as well as the Portuguese academic community. With the full support of the Portuguese authorities, since 2014 scores of young Syrian women and men were able to resume their studies. More than one hundred have already graduated with a BA, MA or PhD’s degrees.

Yet numerous other students are still waiting for an education opportunity to bounce back and rebuild hope for the future. Too many youth are being left behind. Without accessible and quality education, youth also end up being left out of the world of work.

This session was about listening to Syrian voices and other testimonials from the ground involved in this initiative in different capacities to raise awareness about the need to boost higher education opportunities for young people caught up in crisis due to conflict, persecution or natural disasters. It provided a unique opportunity to deeper understand higher education in emergencies both as a very practical, human and emotional subject and as a key strategic policy issue at the core of the so-called triple nexus (humanitarian-development-peace nexus). At the end of the session participants developed a better understanding of how much “in conflict and crisis situations, higher education serves as a powerful driver for change, shelters a critical group of young men and women by maintaining their hopes for the future, fosters inclusion and non-discrimination and acts as a catalyst for the recovery and rebuilding of post-conflict countries” (New York Declaration, paragraph 82, 2016). 

As Kholoud, an electronical engineer, alumna of the Global Platform for Syrian Students once said, “if you build a person, the person will build the community and the community will rebuild the country”.


Who was this Session for?

  • EU and national officers/civil servants working on humanitarian and development policy
  • Diplomatic missions in Brussels
  • Political consultants working on education, humanitarian, development, recovery and rebuilding from conflict  and peace issues  
  • Professionals working in international organizations and NGOs focusing on SDG Agenda, youth, development, humanitarian and peace issues
  • Members of the academic community (higher education institutions, associations and student unions)
  • Journalists and communication professionals who want to learn more about these issues and listen to impact stories
  • Individuals aiming at knowing more about these topics, listening to inspiring stories or being involved in these initiatives


If you missed the session, watch it here!



For further information, watch the RRM video presentation and know more! .


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