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Professor Barbara Moser-Mercer

Visiting Research Fellow

Barbara Moser-Mercer, professor emerita and founder of InZone (University of Geneva), is visiting professor at University of Nairobi, engaged in strengthening African solutions that advance Higher Education in Emergencies (HEiE) and has been coordinating the launch phase of the African Higher Education in Emergencies Network (AHEEN). Following her initial training as conference interpreter she pursued her studies and research in psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology, and focused on the development of expertise in complex cognitive skills of bilinguals, both from a cognitive psychology and a cognitive neuro-science perspective. These findings have been instrumental in informing the design and the development of student-centered multilingual digital learning environments in different fragile contexts. Building on insights and experience in a variety of displacement contexts she has studied, as well as further developed, a viable interface between humanitarian and academic actors conducive to scaling higher education opportunities for displaced youth that benefit both students and their communities and inform education policy in refugee-hosting countries.  

Research project at ODID

This research explores the role of Higher Education in emergency contexts from a variety of perspectives: a) refugee agency and self-reliance b) universities’ civic role c) the interface between the humanitarian sector and academe d) local knowledge production and epistemologies, and their collective impact on local, regional and global policy-making. 

Higher Education in Emergencies (HEiE) as a concept emerged early during the second decade of the 21st century to denote the importance of including the entire education continuum in a humanitarian response and covers all humanitarian education interventions at post-secondary/tertiary level. Interest in HEiE was primarily motivated by the SDG Agenda (United Nations, 2015), the New York Declaration (United Nations, 2016), the Global Compact on Refugees (2018), and the Syrian crisis, in which large numbers of displaced students from Syria drove demand for higher education within refugee contexts (UNHCR, 2019). 

At present, only 3-5% of eligible refugees attend college, as compared to a global non-refugee average of 37%. The UNHCR has set a target to achieve enrolment of 15% of college-eligible refugees in higher education programmes in host and third countries by 2030 - #15by30 (UNHCR, 2019, p. 13). 

Universities are neither humanitarian nor development actors per se but have entered the field in the recent past (Crea, 2016; Zeus, 2009; Moser-Mercer, 2014; Moser-Mercer, Hayba and Goldsmith, 2018, Pak & Moser-Mercer, in press). HEiE actors when operating at field level need to coordinate actions with the Education Cluster and become part of assumptions about refugee agency, humanitarian and development programming cycles, monitoring and evaluation methods, and cultural values as they affect program design and implementation. The dependency relationship between humanitarian and development initiatives and donor funding, with minimal funding going to HEiE, means that traditional EiE and HEiE approaches are focused primarily on access to higher education for refugees and not on the critical role host country universities can play to ensure that access translates into opportunities for critical reflection and a rethinking and redesign of how refugee communities evolve, how refugee agency is strengthened, how refugees are integrated into their host countries, and how a long-term and whole-of-society approach can foster systemic change.   

Research interests:

Higher Education in Emergencies (HEiE)