• 3C Forum, Thailand: Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees

    1 December 2023, Mahidol University, Bangkok

    3C Forum Program

    1st December

    The 7th 3C Forum Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees will be held at Prachasangkom Udompathana (Room 101), Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, Salaya Campus

    999 Phutthamonthon 4 Road, Phutthamonthon, Nakhon Pathom 73170, Thailand

     Registration starts at 8.30

    •   Welcoming Remarks- Mahidol University, UNHCR, CAPRS- 9.00 – 9.15 am

    •   Introductions to 3C Forum and to Facilitators -OUR  9.15- 9.35

    •   Setting the scene:   Panel by Refugee Students and Scholars  9.35- 10.00 am

    •   Parallel Sessions I (pre-set topics)- 10.10- 12.00 pm

    •   Lunch 12-1.00 pm

    •   Parallel Sessions II (participant led topics) 1.30- 3.10 pm

    •   Refreshment Break 3.10-3.30 pm

    •   Reflection panel by facilitators 3.30- 4.15 pm

    •   Action plan setting- meeting the challenge and how we grow 4.15- 5 pm

    Pre-set topics for the morning sessions:

     How to create a culture of refugee inclusion at the top of Thai universities? What role do connected learning partnerships with Thai universities play in increasing access to HE?

    How can Thai universities expand access to existing transnational education (TNE) opportunities and/or create new complementary education pathways for refugee students?

    What role can Thai universities play in raising awareness about forced migration generally, the needs of refugee students, and ways to advance integration and inclusion beyond campus?

    Afternoon sessions' topics will be set by the participants

    Facilitators will lead a small group discussion for 100 min with max 25 people per group.

    There will be 2X 50 mins solution focused on facilitated dialogue.

    After the first 50 min participants will have the option of moving to another session to contribute to the dialogue session of their choice for the next 50 minutes.

    3C Forum, Thailand: Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees

    Project Bodhi

    1 December 2023, Mahidol University, Bangkok

    The 3C Forum also referred to as the ‘Collaborate, Create, Change’ Forum, is an initiative led by Opening Universities for Refugees (OUR). This forum has been successfully conducted in various locations, including Hong Kong, New Zealand, Iraq, Indonesia, Australia, and Malaysia. The seventh forum took place at Mahidol University in Thailand, co-organised by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, in collaboration with the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University, the Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies (CAPRS) at University of Auckland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

    The Forum commenced with an introduction from Dr. Gül İnanç, Founder of OUR, followed by Welcome remarks of Professor Sureeporn Punpuing, Director of Mahidol Migration Centre (MMC), Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR). Welcome remarks were also provided by Dr. Vachararutai Boontinand, Director of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Mr. Evan Jones, CAPRS South-East Asia based Project Manager, University of Auckland, and, Ms. Manal Stulgaitis, Education Officer, at UNHCR, Copenhagen  ( via zoom connection).

    According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is an individual compelled to flee their country due to persecution, war, or violence, based on factors such as race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Their rights and protection are anchored in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution arising from non-political crimes or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”

    The primary objective of this Forum was to bolster collaboration among stakeholders to advocate for the inclusion of refugees within the Thai higher education sector.

    The inaugural session, titled “Setting the Scene: Panel by Refugee Students and Scholars,” moderated by Dr. Mike Hayes, provided a platform for eight refugees from Pakistan and Myanmar to share their experiences and challenges in pursuing higher education. They shared their perspectives and personal experiences, providing insights into the range of hardships stemming from the absence of legal status, hindering access not only to education but also to fundamental necessities such as healthcare, job opportunities, and financial inclusion.

    Responding to these challenges, participants engaged in group discussions to explore ideas and solutions for refugees, particularly students, focusing on three key questions:

    • How can Thai universities create a culture of refugee inclusion and contribute to increasing access to Human Rights Education?
    • What role can Thai universities play in creating a culture of refugee inclusion at the top, and how do learning partnerships with Thai universities contribute to increased access to higher education?
    • How can Thai universities contribute to raising global awareness about forced migration, addressing the needs of refugee students, and promoting integration beyond the campus?


    Session 1: How can Thai universities create a culture of refugee inclusion and contribute to increasing access to Human Rights Education?

    The first session delved into expanding access to existing transnational education opportunities and creating new complementary education pathways for refugee students. Participants emphasised the need for universities to raise awareness of the challenges faced by refugees, integrating recognition of these issues into the university’s ethos. Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 16 on Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, creating an inclusive and diverse environment was highlighted as a key driver. Two perspectives were proposed: a top-down approach involving regional engagement, such as through ASEAN, and a bottom-up approach granting autonomy and accommodating scholarship and research programs within universities to provide more opportunities for refugees on campuses.

    Participants further spotlighted the intricate nature of political issues surrounding refugees, especially in societies with ongoing conflicts such as Myanmar, and in destination countries like Thailand— the latter of which is not yet a signatory to the Refugee Convention. From the perspective of the country in conflict, those who have left to seek refuge may face allegations of crimes against the government, particularly in relation to their divergent political beliefs. In destination countries, matters concerning refugees are generally perceived as sensitive, casting them as outsiders or even potential threats to the prevailing nationalistic regime. The intricacies of this issue are often overlooked by the general public, necessitating the involvement of relevant agencies to heighten awareness and foster understanding. Increased awareness and understanding are crucial for promoting inclusion and facilitating access to opportunities for refugees.

    As an interim measure, the necessity of documentation and the engagement of credible guarantors surfaced as essential components to expedite the legal status and sustenance of refugees. Amidst this predicament, refugees encounter barriers to accessing basic necessities, including the right to participate in public activities without fear of arrest, opening a bank account, and enrolling in university. The absence of formal identification exacerbates challenges, extending to limited opportunities for employment or livelihoods. Participants proposed potential solutions, including the issuance of specific visas, researchers’ visas, and the establishment of a certified guarantor pathway, facilitated through collaboration with UNHCR. Such measures are posited to safeguard the livelihoods of refugees.

    In proposing a lasting resolution, participants advocated for an alternative pedagogical approach: online learning. Notably, this strategy necessitates financial grants and substantive support to ensure access to the Internet and requisite facilities. In response to prevailing challenges, Thai universities are encouraged to engage in collaborative ventures with international academic institutions. This strategic pursuit is underscored by the benefits of international partnerships, which serve to augment the capacity of Thai programs and fortify hybrid modalities. This pedagogical approach, characterised by increased flexibility, stands to derive benefits from growing governmental commitment to diversity. The discourse extended to the examination of textbook availability and the linguistic challenges entailed in acquiring English proficiency. Nevertheless, the utilisation of both methods by academic institutions to furnish educational access for students in refugee camps substantiates the heightened interest among refugees in pursuing opportunities for higher education.

    In the realm of developmental considerations, insights gleaned from sessions yielded the following key recommendations:

    (1) Enhancing Connectivity: Undertaking the establishment of knowledge programs and small-scale research initiatives tailored to assist individuals confronted with constraints,

    (2) Alliance with Local Students: The cultivation of alliances, particularly with Thai students, emerges as imperative for nurturing mutual understanding and garnering support, and

    (3) Pathways for Undocumented Individuals: A strategic initiative involves the development of pathways enabling undocumented individuals to pursue certificates and degree programs with a hybrid structure across borders. Such an approach is poised to significantly amplify educational opportunities for these students.

    To foster a culture of refugee inclusion, university communities must acknowledge the specific needs of refugees. Armed with a foundational understanding of basic human rights, universities can play a pivotal role in advancing SDG Goal 4, aiming for inclusive and equitable quality education, and Goal 10, striving to reduce inequality within and among countries. This involves cultivating awareness, helping, and initiating pathway solutions for communities that require equitable support, ultimately elevating the quality of living and overall well-being. Beyond the pursuit of education in human rights, refugees also expressed the imperative need for access to education in various sciences, such as ICT, medicine, and other disciplines. This multifaceted educational approach is seen as instrumental not only in academic enrichment but also as a means for refugees to secure livelihoods and contribute meaningfully to society.


    Session 2: What role can Thai universities play in creating a culture of refugee inclusion at the top, and how do learning partnerships with Thai universities contribute to increased access to higher education?

    The second group focused on creating a culture of refugee inclusion in Thai universities and the role that universities can play in increasing access to Human Rights Education. Key discussions included accessibility of higher education for refugees, the supportive role of universities for refugee students, and potential advocacy initiatives. The group aimed to overcome limitations related to legal status documentation, enhance the awareness of universities and staff working on refugee-related issues, and work collaboratively to achieve common goals in higher education rankings and the SDGs.

    It was noted that in Thailand, refugees encounter numerous challenges in accessing higher education. Throughout the discussions, participants underscored the imperative to increase support for refugee communities. While health services are available to address challenges at the access level, the provision of education, particularly higher and vocational education across various disciplines, is essential for fostering improved livelihoods. Beyond the absence of access to mandatory standard education, refugees face a further barrier in accessing knowledge that aligns with national exams, which are crucial for pursuing disciplines beyond social sciences. University regulations further compound these challenges, as refugees often lack the required visa or legal status necessary for educational access. Addressing these multifaceted issues is integral to creating an inclusive educational environment for refugees.

    As the challenges persist regarding access and availability of education, there is a pressing need for effective publicisation and communication efforts. To address these challenges, participants emphasised the importance of publicising scholarships and initiatives from related agencies. The potential for universities to assist in daily administrative matters, such as facilitating bank accounts, National Screening Mechanism (NSM) involvement, and creating safe spaces and mental health support on campus for refugee communities, were also highlighted. While scholarships increase access to higher education for refugees, participants stressed the importance of additional mechanisms such as internships and part-time jobs to improve living conditions and employment opportunities post-graduation.

    Universities, as communal hubs, can undertake an influential role by initiating and fostering partnerships to address the specific equitable needs of refugees. In terms of external relations, collaboration between universities, UNHCR, and NGOs is crucial. Despite numerous dialogues in the past, a more concerted effort and commitment are still required for the meaningful engagement of relevant agencies in supporting refugees. Refugees have specific requests extending beyond administrative matters, emphasising the necessity for more comprehensive information on career pathways and job opportunities. Establishing partnerships between universities and related agencies holds the potential to create additional space and opportunities for refugees, contributing to a more holistic and supportive environment.

    In fostering internal engagement within the university community, refugees themselves could take proactive steps by establishing a Refugee Students Network. This initiative aims to empower and fortify the refugee community within the university setting. Concurrently, international organisations such as UNHCR or NGOs offer platforms for refugees to seek assistance through working committees. Collaboration with universities in these efforts can promote engagement with the local culture and encourage the enrollment of refugee students, thereby enhancing diversity and inclusivity within society. A Refugee Students Network could serve as a conduit for fostering understanding regarding the specific challenges faced by refugees, including mental health support, and advocate for flexibility in coursework and requirements. This collective approach would not only empower, refugees within the academic setting but also contributesto a more inclusive and supportive university community.

    Session 3: How can Thai universities contribute to raising global awareness about forced migration, addressing the needs of refugee students, and promoting integration beyond the campus?

    The third group discussed the role that Thai universities can play in raising global awareness about forced migration. Key points included increasing recognition of refugee issues through research, publications, curriculum development, student engagement, faculty exchange, scholarships, fellowships, and partnerships. Examples such as the scholar rescue fund, providing funding for displaced scholars to continue their work at host universities, were presented. The group also flagged the importance of engaging with the media to reach audiences beyond academia and addressing potential challenges posed by legal frameworks and visa restrictions among refugee students.

    In the context of research and scholarly endeavours, students within the refugee population, possessing firsthand experiences of forced displacement, stand as valuable contributors to university research projects focused on forced migration and related themes. Their engagement extends beyond the confines of academic classrooms, offering multifaceted contributions. Through research and publication, universities could assist in surveying and identifying refugees’ needs. The results of such publications could also be shared across academic and university platforms, promoting awareness of the issues within the university community and internationally, influencing individuals, and informing curriculum development. Such concerted efforts seek to achieve a more profound impact aligned with human rights principles for marginalised communities. The incorporation of these issues into general education subjects is advocated as a means to foster inclusivity within academic discourse.

    During the discussions, a pivotal agenda surfaced: the expansion of opportunities for student engagement and exchange programs. A crucial aspect of this initiative is to not only bolster awareness of refugees but also to transform campus environments into spaces of support, where students are acknowledged as invaluable peer advocates. It was suggested that we actively support refugee initiatives and foster interactions with Thai students to bridge cultural divides. Despite existing constraints, universities are urged to advocate for refugee admissions through internal procedures and collaborative efforts, cultivating cultural understanding within universities. This could be achieved by creating dedicated offices or centers that serve as focal points for addressing refugee issues, providing support, and facilitating engagement. Such initiatives could prove highly effective in creating an environment of inclusivity. Faculty-led conferences on refugee issues could serve as a platform for discourse and improve university networks to streamline document processes and enhance partnerships with government agencies.

    To further promote the culture of diversity externally, universities could develop partnerships and collaborations with other stakeholders, sharing best practices, and disseminating lessons learned. Regarding the legal status issue, universities could support refugee integration through collaborations with government agencies, providing internships and practical learning opportunities within academic programs relevant to refugees, emphasising connecting with communities, expanding or developing university international offices to address refugee issues, acknowledging individual struggles, and exploring limitations on accepting refugee students due to government policies.

    The discussion also encompassed the role of media and stressed the importance of engaging with a broader audience beyond academia. However, participants were mindful of potential risks, such as negative media portrayals, and emphasised the need for inclusivity in targeting audiences. When addressing the intricate realities of disabilities for refugees, considering both advantages and challenges in everyday life, participants underscored the significance of avoiding labels. They stressed the importance of fostering inclusive environments to effectively communicate the nuanced experiences of individuals in these circumstances.

    From the discussions, key recommendations  raised by participants included:

    (1) Integration beyond Campus: Collaboration with government agencies, providing internships, and creating dedicated spaces for refugee communities within the university structure,

    (2) Faculty Awareness and Sensitivity: Education for faculty members about refugee backgrounds to create safe and inclusive learning environments, and

    (3) Universities’ Internal Structure: Establishment of dedicated offices or centres to address refugee issues and provide focal points for support and engagement.

    Challenges and issues identified during discussions revolved around universities’ awareness, administrative and legal hurdles, partnerships, and community outreach. Participants proposed several actionable steps to create more inclusive environments:

    • Developing specific strategies to raise awareness about refugees while mitigating potential risks.
    • Partnering with government agencies and NGOs to create internship and volunteer opportunities for refugees within university programs.
    • Establishing dedicated offices or centres within universities to coordinate refugee support initiatives and connect with relevant departments.
    • Conducting research and collaboration with civil society to advocate for refugee-friendly policies and raise public awareness.
    • Exploring alternative economic inclusion models like refugee-led businesses to address employment challenges.

    Following discussions on the challenges faced by refugees and suggested recommendations, participants delved deeper into key issues, focusing on:

    1. Immigration Status and Accessibility: Recommendations included establishing MoUs with UNHCR for special assessments and qualifications, and ensuring access to education without visa requirements.
    2. Student Network and Advocacy: Suggestions included engagement with student unions or university clubs to enhance connectivity between universities both at regional and international levels.
    3. Bridging High School to University for Refugee Students: Solutions encompassed exploring and promoting alternative pathways, advocating for accreditation and recognition of refugee student qualifications, and considering quota systems or dedicated programs for refugee students.
    4. Creating Awareness within Thai University: Strategies included initiating awareness from a top-down approach through scholarships and fundraising and conducting partnerships between universities, NGOs, and UNHCR.

    The event concluded with remarks underscoring the critical importance of partnerships among relevant agencies to increase awareness, improve access to higher education, and address administrative challenges. While the recommendations and suggestions are not binding commitments, they serve as foundational steps for universities to recognise the significance of refugee issues in alignment with the university’s vision for fulfilling SDG commitments.

    Common Challenges Faced by Refugees

    Accessing higher education poses significant challenges for refugees, as discussed at the 3C Forum on Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees held at Mahidol University in Thailand on December 1, 2023. This discussion highlighted the many obstacles refugees face in pursuing further education, including legal, financial, social, and cultural barriers. This introduction aims to explore these challenges in a clear and straightforward manner, focusing on the difficulty refugees encounter in their quest for higher education and integration into academic life. Key issues faced by the refugees are presented as follows:

    • Legal and Administrative Hurdles

    Refugees often face legal and administrative barriers, including lack of documentation and visa requirements, which hinder their access to higher education. The absence of formal identification complicates matters such as opening bank accounts, enrolling in courses, and participating in public activities. Thai universities are urged to advocate for policy changes and establish partnerships with relevant agencies to streamline document processes and facilitate refugee students’ educational endeavours.

    • Financial Constraints

    Financial constraints pose significant challenges for refugee students, including limited access to financial resources for tuition fees, living expenses, and other educational necessities. Although scholarships are available, there is a need for additional support mechanisms such as internships and part-time jobs to improve refugee students’ living conditions and employment opportunities post-graduation.

    • Limited Access to Resources

    Refugees may lack access to essential resources such as internet connectivity and educational facilities, which are crucial for pursuing higher education, particularly in online learning environments. Thai universities would need to provide substantive support, including financial grants and access to facilities, to ensure refugee students can fully participate in educational programs.

    • Social and Cultural Integration:

    Refugee students may face challenges in integrating into the social and cultural fabric of Thai universities, including language barriers and cultural differences. Initiatives such as Refugee Students Networks and collaborations with local students can help foster a supportive and inclusive environment for refugee students within the university community.

    • Awareness and Perception

    There is a lack of awareness and understanding about refugee issues among the general public and within the university community, which may lead to misconceptions and prejudices. Engaging with the media and raising awareness about forced migration and refugee integration is crucial to countering negative perceptions and fostering empathy and support for refugee students.

    • Policy and Advocacy:

    Refugee-friendly policies and initiatives are often lacking or inadequate, posing challenges for refugee students’ access to higher education. Thai universities need to collaborate with government agencies and civil society to advocate for policy changes and establish supportive frameworks for refugee inclusion in higher education. Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from Thai universities, government agencies, NGOs, and the international community to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for refugee students in higher education.

    Recommendations from 3C Forum, Thailand

    Following the extensive discussions at the 3C Forum about including refugees in higher education, clear recommendations emerged to help address the challenges they face. From making Thai universities more welcoming to refugees, to overcoming legal obstacles and advocating for policy changes, each recommendation plays a crucial role. By engaging both internally and externally, universities can create a supportive environment for refugee students. Additionally, research and sharing knowledge can raise awareness and drive positive change. As we explore these recommendations, it becomes clear that collaborative efforts are essential for making higher education accessible to refugees and building a more inclusive society. The recommendations are detailed below:

    • Creating a Culture of Inclusion

    Thai universities should proactively integrate refugee issues into their ethos and raise awareness among the university community about the challenges faced by refugees by emphasize the alignment of initiatives with the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 16 on Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions and establish pathways for refugees to access higher education through collaborations with international academic institutions and regional organisations like ASEAN.

    • Addressing Legal and Administrative Hurdles

    Advocate for the issuance of specific visas and the establishment of a certified guarantor pathway to expedite the legal status and sustenance of refugees. Providing substantive support, including financial grants, to ensure access to online learning resources and facilities could enhance the means for refugees to get better living conditions. Explore partnerships with UNHCR and NGOs to streamline document processes and enhance support for refugees’ educational endeavours.

    • Fostering Internal and External Engagement:

    Establish Refugee Students Networks within universities to empower and support the refugee community on campus. Strengthen collaborations between universities, UNHCR, NGOs, and government agencies to address refugee issues comprehensively. Engage with the media to raise awareness about forced migration and refugee integration, while ensuring inclusivity in targeting audiences.

    • Advocating for Policy Changes

    Collaborate with government agencies and civil society to advocate for refugee-friendly policies and initiatives. Develop strategies to bridge the gap between high school and university for refugee students, including exploring alternative pathways and advocating for the recognition of refugee student qualifications. Initiate awareness campaigns and fundraising efforts within Thai universities to garner support for refugee inclusion initiatives.

    • Research and Scholarly Endeavors

    Encourage research projects that involve refugee students as valuable contributors, providing firsthand insights into forced migration issues. Disseminate research findings to raise awareness within the university community and internationally, informing curriculum development and advocacy efforts.

    Through the adoption of these recommendations, Thai universities have the potential to make substantial strides in fostering inclusivity for refugee students, heightening awareness surrounding forced migration, and cultivating partnerships to tackle the hurdles encountered by refugees in accessing higher education.

    In conclusion, the challenges outlined during the 3C Forum underscore the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the barriers that refugees encounter in accessing higher education. From legal and administrative hurdles to financial constraints and social integration challenges, the path to higher education for refugees is rife with obstacles. However, the recommendations proposed offer tangible pathways forward, emphasising the importance of advocacy, collaboration, and institutional support.

    By implementing these recommendations, Thai universities and relevant stakeholders can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for refugee students, fulfilling the vision of inclusive higher education for all. Through collective action and commitment to change, we can pave the way for a brighter future where every refugee has the opportunity to pursue their educational aspirations and contribute meaningfully to society.


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