Kepler and Southern New Hampshire University are piloting a blended learning university program at Kiziba Refugee Camp in western Rwanda in 2015, with a cohort of 25 refugee students. Supported by the IKEA Foundation, our unique learning model means that highly mobile refugee students – often facing precarious and uncertain futures – can complete their studies at a self-directed pace and with the guarantee that their U.S.-accredited degree will be recognized globally.
Southern New Hampshire University’s partnership with Kepler university program offers a unique model for higher education in the developing world. Generously funded by the IKEA Foundation, our program provides a world-class BA online degree from Southern New Hampshire University to students in the developing world. Our students get the best of online learning paired with in-person seminars — all while students work toward a U.S.-accredited degree and a great job after graduation.
Recently, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Kepler have began to consider how to extend our services to one of the world’s most under-served populations for higher education: refugee students. In 2015 we began piloting a blended learning university at Kiziba Refugee Camp in western Rwanda. We want to expand upon our inspiring work in Kigali and Kiziba by bringing the same dedication, resources, and opportunities to refugee populations across the globe.
SNHU’s refugee programs are unique in the humanitarian education sphere. Our higher education model for refugees is based upon a proven program that was designed for development contexts. As the number of refugees in long-term, protracted displacement situations worldwide continues to grow, it is critical that we strive to bridge the humanitarian-development gap by sharing best practices – learning from development-oriented approaches in order to find refugee-oriented solutions. In addition, our competency-based degree program is designed for maximum flexibility. Southern New Hampshire University’s online, project-based learning model means that highly mobile refugee students – often facing precarious and uncertain futures – can complete their studies at a self-directed pace and with the guarantee that their US accredited degree will be recognized globally.
In August 2015, Kepler opened at Kiziba Refugee Camp in western Rwanda, with a cohort of 25 students, and we will receive our second intake in September. We are particularly proud of the gains that we have made in gender equity during our first year of operations through a targeted women’s preparation program for Kepler; with our incoming cohort, the Kepler Kiziba program will have achieved a 50/50 overall gender ratio.
For most refugees, especially women, educational opportunities remain limited to low-quality primary and sometimes secondary education; for the majority of refugee students, higher education remains out of reach. Given the fundamental relationship between education and employment outcomes, higher education has an important role to play in responding to calls for development-focused and economic market-based solutions to protracted displacement. At the same time, the precarious nature of emerging refugee crises worldwide – as well as the increasing prevalence of urban refugees and global trends toward rising mobility – means that education solutions must be as mobile and adaptable as the populations that they are serving.
How does your innovation work?
Online content: Students earn U.S. accredited AA & BA degrees online from Southern New Hampshire University’s innovative College for America program. In addition, students use online learning in their in-person coursework to stream lectures and complete online assignments, problem sets, and exams developed by leading professors & available for low cost on online course platforms.
In-person learning: A team of trained Rwandan Teaching Fellows lead seminars to expand upon online content, discuss difficult material, build critical thinking skills, and calibrate each subject area for a relevant local context.
Workplace training: Kepler provides students with the skills that they need for employment—while also connecting them directly with local and international employers for internships and teaching them how to stand out professionally. All students are required to participate in work study and structured internships, designed in partnership with local employers. Students at the Kigali campus have found internships and employment in start-up social enterprises, solar and alternative energy companies, and the tech sector throughout the region.
What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?
For our program in Kigali, Rwanda, the rate of degree acquisition has been extremely high for our students, with 98% of Kepler students on track to earn their Southern New Hampshire BA degrees within 4 years. Our curriculum is built to help students learn the skills they need to secure a great job after graduating. In addition, internships are required of all students, and we work with local employers to ensure that our curriculum is always job relevant. This model has been so successful that 81% of third year students in our program are offered a full-time job by the time of graduation.
In addition, the SNHU & Kepler Kiziba program has had an incredibly positive impact on the refugee communities where we work. Over the course of the first year we have worked to identify key opportunities to maximize our impact and support for the wider community in Kiziba camp. We have developed several micro-level interventions that are on-going and show potential for greater development, including a community-focused English class led by student teaching assistants from our program. Our program also gives children and youth in the camp a reason to go to school. Because there previously was little chance of achieving a university education, many youth didn’t see any evidence in their lives that education would be important for improving their futures. According to Kiziba refugees, the chance to earn a SNHU degree has given new purpose and reason to engage in primary and secondary education within Kiziba camp.
Recently, our work in Kiziba has been recognized by the UN Refugee Agency, as the SNHU and Kepler program at Kiziba was selected as part of the first cohort of the Humanitarian Education Accelerator, granted in partnership by UNHCR, UNICEF, and DFID UK. One of just three organisations selected globally, the award includes access to a great network, support for evaluation, and £300,000 to support scaling of the model through identification of key factors that enable and hinder the scaling of educational innovations within crises. Teams will be featured within a series of public events and on the Humanitarian Education Accelerator web platform.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
After achieving success with our national program in Kigali and our refugee pilot program in Kiziba, Kepler is now focused on dramatically expanding access to higher education for one of the world's most disadvantaged populations. By providing high-quality and low-cost higher education opportunities, Kepler – in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University – will both directly benefit refugee students and their families and help to create a model globally to offer opportunity where almost none existed before. The Kepler model is designed for efficient and innovative scaling. We recognise that different refugee populations and displacement contexts will have diverse sets of needs and challenges. We are therefore developing a number of adaptable pilot models that are designed to increase access to Kepler’s higher education program while remaining flexible and cost-effective.