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Concept Note

This International Conference builds upon the ongoing collective efforts aimed at addressing the challenge of large movements of people in different parts of the world, involving both refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations. It focuses on the specific needs of students in higher education who are in desperate situations due to wars, conflicts, humanitarian crises or natural disasters. It aims at developing a fast-track solution to the problem of delivering more, better and faster higher education opportunities in emergency situations. It will feature a first-ever systemic response to address this challenge by showcasing a proof of concept of a Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies (RRM) based on an innovative approach and an ambitious blended financing strategy as recommended by the OECD. The ultimate goal of the Conference is to galvanize support for the RRM and generate new momentum for boosting opportunities for higher education in emergencies, as a contribution to the future Compacts on Migrants and Refugees to be adopted later on in 2018.


5 April 2018



Portugal, Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Av de Berna, 45 A, 1067-001 Lisbon)


For Whom?

Target participants include: high-level political decision-makers; senior-level policy makers, representatives of multilateral institutions; representatives of universities, students and academia in general; experts; representatives of the private sector, including philanthropic organizations; representatives of civil society and the media.


Aims and Objectives

This Conference will provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of:

(1) best practices and lessons learned to be shared by participants, including the case studies presented;
(2) proof of concept showcase of the Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies (RRM);
(3) the pilot program of the RRM that will be run in the 2018-2019 academic year;
(4) which partners are ready for more in-depth cooperation within the RRM.

This conference will also provide participants with opportunities to announce pledges and make new commitments as well as to sign new protocols of cooperation.


Expected Outcomes

The Conference is expected to have the following main outcomes:

(1) An analytical summary capturing best practices and lessons learned as shared by participants during the sessions, including the case studies presented;
(2) A proof of concept of the Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies will be available on-line;
(3) Announcement of a pilot program for the implementation of the RRM for the 2018-2019 academic year;
(4) A wealth of new pledges and commitments to the RRM announced by participants;
(5) This Conference is also expected to provide an important opportunity for key policy makers to develop new partnerships which could be announced later on;
(6) It is envisaged that the debates will provide a contribution to the UN Compacts on migration and refugees under discussion.


Plenary Sessions

• Presentations by high-level representatives highlighting the importance of advancing practical solutions to boost higher education opportunities for students in forced mobility and in vulnerable situations, building upon the SDGs Agenda, the New York Declaration and developing further the nexus between humanitarian and development on education as a contribution to the future Compact on Migrants and Refugees;

• Presentations by policy experts on the current state of play: research and policy options, providing an overview of solutions and initiatives and highlighting key success factors, the main challenges, and opportunities to overcome them;

• A proof of concept showcase of the Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies (RRM) as an innovative systemic solution to address this global challenge.


Breakout Sessions

Parallel working forums will enable direct interaction among participants. The main aim of the debate is to identify common challenges and major barriers, share examples of interesting practices and develop practical solutions in planning and setting up new solutions such as the RRM . Within each breakout session, there will be an opportunity to explore avenues for cooperation in order to overcome barriers and challenges, linked to the particular theme of each group:

• A global academic consortium for higher education in emergencies;

• A coordination mechanism to enable higher education institutions to deliver an systemic response in times of crises;

• Sources of financing and financing models for higher education in emergencies.


Debate Motion

'International education is complicit in the growing sentiments of nationalist populism, as it mostly serves to create a class of global elites.'


The debate will ask whether international education is part of the cause of nationalist populism or part of the solution. The audience will be invited to vote for or against the motion before and after the debate takes place between two panels.

Summing up sessions will be bringing delegates together to summarize the outcomes of the debate in the breakout sessions; rapporteurs from each group will briefly summarize the workshop discussions and highlight the key issues and potential solutions as well as examples of transferable practice.

Key lessons and way forward
This session will offer a facilitated debate and reflections on the key messages emerging from the Conference.

Advisory sessions (by individual appointments)
An opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and receive tailored with regards to joining the Rapid Response Mechanism. Dedicated Info points will be set up in the lobby at which consultations will take place.

Commitment/partnerships desks
Participants will have the opportunity to make commitments or finalize partnerships at appropriate kiosks.



This International Conference is a continuation of an emerging network of policy, practice and research that has connected a group of multi-stakeholder partners – civil society, foundations, universities and higher education associations, international organizations, government representatives, aid and cooperation agencies - engaged in and committed to promoting higher education among refugees, migrants in vulnerable situations, affected by conflicts, natural disasters and facing emergency situations.

It builds on the momentum generated by the World Humanitarian Forum, held in May 2016, in which governments and other international actors agreed to work together in order to achieve strategic transformations, as proposed in the Agenda for Humanity, aimed to “reduce the suffering of millions of people, and address and reduce humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability”. The Agenda for Humanity consists of 5 core responsibilities and 24 strategic transformations that are needed to achieve progress. Core responsibilities 3 – Leave no one behind – and 5 – Working differently to end need – are particularly important for our purpose. Moreover, this International Conference also takes into consideration further commitments made at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants (September 2016), as expressed in the New York Declaration. In particular in its paragraph 82, all member states recognized for the very first time the power of higher education to build resilience in emergencies and foster recovery and rebuilding from disasters and conflict. Last but not least, it also builds on the commitments made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular SDG 4, 5 and 16.

Against this backdrop, this conference aims at marking a turning point in supporting collective efforts to unleash the unique power of higher education to strengthen and uphold protection of refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations, creating additional pathways for admission and resettlement, fostering resilience and rebuilding from disasters and conflict.

Building upon lessons learned and best practices collected from various initiatives implemented over the years around the world to meet humanitarian needs and reduce students’ risk and vulnerability in crisis situations, namely by the Global Platform for Syrian Students, is it now proposed to make a quantum leap by setting up a Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education in Emergencies (RRM). This RRM seeks to provide a fast track systemic response for the specific target group of students and scholars at risk, in forcible displacement or in need of humanitarian assistance.

The presentation of the RRM at this International Conference is most timely since it will allow to galvanize support to it and identify a small group of champions who will come together around this initiative to make immediate progress, as suggested by the UN SG in his Report “Making migration work for all” (paragraph 62), with the ultimate goal of having it incorporated into the Compacts on migrants and refugees in the making as a key contribution to meet migrants’ and refugees’ specific needs and reduce their risk and vulnerability in support of the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.


 To download the concept note CLICK HERE.




The Global Platform for Syrian Students is a non-profit multi-stakeholders organisation, founded in November 2013, by Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal, with the support of a core group of institutional partners, namely the Council of Europe, the League of Arab States, the International Organization of Migrations (IOM) and the Institute of International Education (IIE).


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General Info & Programme:
  Ms. Dalia Sendra: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Registration and Logistics - Abreu Events:
  Mr. Nuno Pinto: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(+351) +351 21 415 6258
Av. 25 de Abril, nº 2, 2799-556 Linda-a-Velha, Portugal