UNHCR Scholarship Opportunities: Apply Now

The UN Refugee Agency, also known as UNHCR, provides various scholarship opportunities to help displaced people access higher education. In this guide, we will discuss the different scholarship programs offered by UNHCR, eligibility requirements, application processes, financial assistance provided, and answers to frequently asked questions. 

What is UNHCR?

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. UNHCR’s main purpose is to protect and support refugees around the world. As of 2021, there are over 82 million forcibly displaced people globally, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons. UNHCR works in over 130 countries providing life-saving assistance such as shelter, clean water, medical care, and education.


One of UNHCR’s core priorities is education. Access to quality education enables refugees to develop skills, resume normalcy in their lives, and become self-reliant. However, the costs associated with higher education often pose significant barriers for refugee communities. This is where UNHCR scholarships come in, helping cover tuition fees, transportation, living costs, and other educational expenses.

UNHCR Scholarship Categories

UNHCR offers the following main scholarship programs to support refugee students in accessing tertiary education:


1. Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI)

Launched in 1992, the DAFI program is UNHCR’s largest scholarship scheme. It provides multi-year scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate studies at public universities in host countries and countries of asylum. DAFI scholars receive a full tuition waiver, living allowance, book and supplies stipend, insurance, and university integration support. In 2020, over 5,000 refugees benefited from DAFI scholarships.

2. José Ramos-Horta Scholarship (JRH)

Established in 2011, the JRH program targets refugee students from the Asia-Pacific region for graduate and post-graduate studies at academic institutions across the world. Scholars are supported with tuition fees, living allowance, travel costs, and other academic expenses. The program aims to build refugee leadership and increase access to third-country opportunities.

3. Samuel Hall Refugee Studies Network (RSN)

Managed in partnership with Samuel Hall, the RSN offers scholarships for Master’s programs in refugee and forced migration studies at select partner universities globally. Funding covers full tuition, accommodation, insurance, visa costs, field research, and living allowance for the duration of the degree. The goal is to boost expertise in asylum and displacement issues.

4. UN Joint SDG Fund Scholarship

Administered jointly with the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, this program supports refugee students pursuing Master’s degrees contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. Scholarships are awarded for one to two years with coverage of tuition, living costs, research grants, internships and career guidance.


5. Additional Partnership Scholarships

UNHCR also works with universities, foundations, and other partners who provide scholarships directly to refugees. These include the Langesund Scholarship (Norway), DAFI-Japan, Erasmus Mundus (Europe), and scholarships at various Australian academic institutions, amongst others. Terms and eligibility vary based on partner requirements.

UNHCR Scholarship Eligibility

To qualify for UNHCR scholarships, the basic criteria includes:

  • Refugee status recognition or asylum seeker with mandated status
  • Acceptance into a full-time degree program at a university/institution
  • Demonstrated academic merit and leadership potential
  • Financial need and lack of alternative funding sources
  • Commitment to support other refugees upon graduation

The selection process considers a balanced representation of gender, geographic location, fields of study based on need. For graduate programs, a minimum 2-3 years of relevant work experience and an intermediate English level is recommended. Eligibility also depends on specific policies of partner institutions and scholarship programs. UNHCR strongly encourages applications from refugees living in protracted situations of displacement.

How to Apply for UNHCR Scholarships

The application process starts with identifying suitable scholarship opportunities based on one’s profile and education goals on the UNHCR website. Requirements and deadlines vary by program so it’s important to check instructions thoroughly.

Standard application components include:

  • Personal statement of motivation and future vision
  • Refugee registration or mandate verification documents
  • Academic transcripts and certificate copies
  • Proof of university admission or conditional admission letter
  • Language test scores, if required
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Portfolio of extracurricular activities and awards
  • Detailed study and resettlement plan

Applications must be filled out online through partner university portals or directly to UNHCR. Shortlisted candidates may be invited for virtual or in-person interviews. Admission decisions depend on the evaluation of all application materials and interview performance. Successful applicants are notified by email and regular post.

It is crucial to start the application process 9-12 months in advance to allow sufficient processing time. UNHCR provides guidance and assistance to navigate procedures. Regional and country offices can help with documentation requirements.

Financial Support Under UNHCR Scholarships

Once selected, UNHCR scholarship recipients receive significant financial assistance as part of their award package:

  • Tuition and Academic Fees: Full coverage of tuition, registration, and exam fees charged by the university.
  • Living Allowance: A monthly stipend to cover living expenses including accommodation, food, transportation, books etc. Allowances range from 200-800 EUR depending on scholarship and cost of living at study location.
  • One-time Resettlement Grant: A lump sum payment of around 1,000 EUR to help with initial settlement and visa costs for studies abroad.
  • Health Insurance: Full medical insurance during the duration of the scholarship program.
  • Travel Costs: Partial or full reimbursement of one return airfare between the country of asylum and the study destination.
  • Supplementary Grants: Additional funding for field research, conferences, internships, procurement of computers as part of academic activities.

This comprehensive aid greatly enhances access for refugees who would otherwise not afford higher education costs. Scholars are supported until the completion of their degree program through UNHCR’s partnership with educational institutions worldwide.

UNHCR Scholars Success Stories

There are many inspiring success stories of refugees who have utilized UNHCR scholarships to rebuild their lives. Here are a few examples:

  • Grace is a South Sudanese refugee who obtained a DAFI scholarship to study Computer Science in Germany. After graduating from the top of her class, she now works as a software developer and supports her family in the refugee camp.
  • Abdi fled Somalia during the civil war and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp. He earned a JRH scholarship for an MBA in Australia, where he now works as an investment banker. Abdi returned twice to mentor younger refugees.
  • Joseph escaped violence in Burundi and was sheltered in Rwanda for over 15 years before receiving an RSN scholarship. He completed a Master’s in Forced Migration and is currently employed as a protection officer with UNHCR field staff in Tanzania.
  • Medina came from Afghanistan as an asylum seeker to Turkey with her family. She obtained a DAFI scholarship to study English Literature and volunteered to translate refugee legal documents. Medina’s experience inspired her to advocate for girls’ education globally.

These trailblazing scholars exemplify how education transforms lives. They demonstrate UNHCR’s vision that every refugee should be able to rebuild dignity and hope through learning.

Key Benefits of UNHCR Scholarship Programs

For refugees, UNHCR scholarships provide life-changing opportunities for skills development, career growth, and social empowerment:

  • Access to Higher Education: Enables academic dreams otherwise not feasible due to costs for displaced communities
  • Livelihood Skills: Gain qualifications in critical fields, prepare for self-reliance, and contribute to societies
  • Professional Network: Build international connections and expand horizons through diverse student bodies
  • Resettlement Support: Assists with integration challenges through guidance, cultural exposure, and mental wellness
  • Continued Learning: Pursue multi-year degrees and advanced studies leading to greater prospects
  • Vocational Guidance: Mentorship aids career exploration, job searching, and transitions into the humanitarian workforce
  • Leadership Potential: Scholarship recipients set examples as role models demonstrating refugee resilience

For host countries, it means a vibrant student population contributing new perspectives while easing the social and economic burden of displacement. Overall, UNHCR programs foster global solidarity and responsibility-sharing in refugee education.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses some commonly asked questions about UNHCR scholarships:

1. What fields of study are supported?

UNHCR scholarships are open to all subjects depending on academic merit and needs. Priority sectors include health, education, engineering, languages, social sciences, law, business, environmental studies and computer sciences.

2. Do I need to have a university admission before applying?

While admission confirmation is preferable, UNHCR also considers conditional admission letters. For graduate scholarships, 2-3 years of relevant work experience is typically required.

3. Can I apply from any country?

Eligibility depends on one’s country of refuge or asylum. It’s best to contact the nearest UNHCR office for location-specific guidance. Some opportunities support studies in the country or region of asylum, while others facilitate resettlement to third countries. Either way, the safety and well-being of the applicant is an important considerations in the process.

4. Can I work while studying?

For most programs, scholarship recipients can undertake on-campus work or internships up to 20 hours per week to gain experience. Off-campus full-time paid employment is generally not permitted due to visa restrictions. Exceptions need pre-approval from UNHCR and the host university.

5. What are my responsibilities after graduating?

There is an expectation for UNHCR scholars to utilize their skills for refugee communities. This could mean pursuing career opportunities in humanitarian aid, joining advocacy networks, participating in mentorship initiatives, or contributing research that benefits displaced populations. Many alumni credit UNHCR for their success and want to give back through volunteerism. Formal commitments are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Apply Here

If you are a refugee or asylum seeker who meets the eligibility criteria, consider applying for a UNHCR scholarship.

You can browse current opportunities and start an application through the following portals:

UNHCR works closely with partner universities, so it also helps to explore the admissions pages of target institutions for additional information on requirements and deadlines.

For general scholarship queries, contact your closest UNHCR country or regional office. Their staff will be glad to advise and support your application process. With dedication and perseverance, a new phase of learning awaits deserving refugee applicants.


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