Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

Created in partnership between Duolingo and the UNHCR, the Duolingo University Access (DUA) Program aims to create improved pathways to higher education for refugee students, by offering one-on-one guidance and assistance with the university and financial aid application processes, as well as immigration and visa processes. 

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Implementation Steps
  5. Challenges Faced
  6. Resources and Partnerships
  7. Looking to the Future
  8. Contact

1. Purpose for the Program

Currently, only 7% of refugees worldwide can access higher education. In line with Duolingo’s commitment to improving access to quality education for all, the organization is proud to endorse the UNHCR’s 15 by 30 pledge. This ambitious goal seeks to increase refugee enrollment in higher education to 15% by 2030. 

The first cohort of 25 Scholars saw 21 enrolled in tertiary education in six countries by the end of the first year of the program. All 14 of the Scholars seeking study visas in Canada and the U.S. received their visas. Here’s a list of where the 21 Scholars are studying:

  • American University of Kurdistan, Iraq
  • Bennington College, US
  • Dartmouth College, US
  • Drexel University, US
  • Emory University, US
  • Georgetown University, US
  • Huron University, Canada
  • Macalester College, US
  • Northeastern University, US
  • Northwestern University, US
  • University of British Columbia, Canada
  • University of California – Berkeley, US
  • University of Canberra, Australia
  • University of Johannesburg, South Africa
  • University of the People, Global/Online
  • University of Western Cape, South Africa
  • Vanderbilt University, US
  • Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada

2. Key to the Success of the Program

The DUA program is a first-of-its-kind, public/private partnership dedicated to providing tailored assistance and aid to refugee scholars. Wrap-around advising is rare for refugee students and we wanted to provide our cohort with excellent support to best ensure their chances of university admission. This is the first approach we have tried and hope other companies will decide to follow our lead in some of their philanthropic initiatives!

3. Key Actors and Participants

The program is designed to aid refugee students seeking to pursue higher education and is a joint effort between the Duolingo English Test and the UNHCR. We currently work with UNHCR in India, Iraq, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

4. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Partnerships are the way to success in this important but complex work! Look at the ‘market’ and determine who you can collaborate with for the key steps of the program: recruitment, university guidance support, visa support, and university transition support.
  2. Start small and strong! Build and launch the program at a scale that is manageable so that staff and students can be fully supported and funded at the necessary levels. 
  3. Be flexible! And be prepared to learn, adapt, and iterate to ensure long-term success.

5. Challenges

  • On the program side, as anticipated, it encountered big hurdles when it came time for students to apply for student visas as refugees. The success our Scholars had in securing their visas was thanks to a lot of awareness-raising, interview preparation, and even support from U.S. government officials.
  • A challenge not anticipated at first was how hard it is to send money to refugees living in other countries for things like their visa application costs and pre-travel shopping. Most countries block refugees from opening bank accounts and many also significantly restrict the funds that refugees can receive electronically via money transfer apps. So struggles and unexpected costs incurred on both the program and student sides when it came to sending support funds to the Scholars.

6. Resources and Partnerships

a. Financial – Duolingo is providing the funding for the staffing of this program, associated program costs, and gap funding for each Scholar. 

b. Staff – This program requires a full-time advisor working with the latest cohort of students. 

c. Partners – This program is in partnership with UNHCR, working with their staff at HQ as well as local staff on the ground in India, Iraq, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. We have found lots of other peers along the way who are also working in facets of refugee education!

7. Looking to the Future

The program is still feeling it out! It’s a new program with lots of aspirations for growth and scaling, but they are still seeing how that will be most feasible based on student’s needs, budget, and staffing considerations. 

8. Contact Information

Name: Laura Kaub
Title: Program Director of Duolingo Scholars Program
Organization: Duolingo Scholars Program

Name: Emma McLeavey-Weeder
Title: Lead of DET’s Access Program
Organization: Duolingo Scholars Program

Visit the official webpage here.

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