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United World Colleges Refugee Initiative 


Miriam Cing, SVR Steering Committee Co-Chair, Interview with

Jens Waltermann, Executive Director, United World Colleges International

February 26, 2021

About UWC Refugee Initiative

Founded in 1962, United World Colleges (UWC) is a group of 18 secondary education institutions providing International Baccalaureate (IB) Diplomas through a two-year, intensive university preparatory program. Jens Walterman, Executive Director of UWC International, says that UWC is a mission-based education movement “to make education a force to unite people for peace and a sustainable future.” UWC selects students in-country based on merit, and, “to the extent that they need scholarships, we provide them with scholarships to then attend UWC schools around the world.”


In 2016, UWC decided to make an active contribution to the plight of the now 80 million forcibly displaced persons around the world. According to Walterman, the UWC Refugee Initiative was launched to “provide education opportunities to talented students from refugee backgrounds of which there are so many.” Through this initiative, UWC provides about five percent of its total intake into the IB diploma program to students from refugee backgrounds, who are supported with full scholarships. 


Expanding Complementary Pathways and Higher Education Access

The UWC Refugee Initiative also partners with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to expand complementary pathways, which, according to UNHCR, “are safe and regulated avenues for refugees that complement resettlement by providing lawful stay in a third country where their international protection needs are met.” 


“Students are selected in their countries of current residence - often the countries where they found refuge - to attend a UWC school as an entry point or a passageway into universities and colleges around the globe, including in the United States, through the Davis UWC Scholars Program,” Walterman adds. Created by Shelby Davis, UWC patron, and Phil Geier, former UWC-USA Head, the Davis UWC Scholars Program is the largest international scholarship program for undergraduates across the globe.


What Members of the University Community Can Do 

Walterman emphasizes that we need more universities and colleges in the U.S. and other countries to join the movement to provide educational opportunities to refugees. Otherwise, we’ll lose talented students who will not be able to achieve their potential to create a better future for themselves and others. 


It is critical for universities and colleges to support student well-being and success after university scholarships are secured, as well. For instance, once students from refugee backgrounds arrive on campus, the school should consider providing English language support. Schools should also be mindful that many refugee-background students have been through highly traumatic experiences, so it is important to connect them with mental health services, if needed. 


Moreover, when thinking about what student “success” means, Waltermann emphasizes that higher education institutions should “always look at the distance covered between entry and exit and not just at the outcome.” (In terms of UWC student completion, 98% of their students get their IB diplomas. Walterman argues that even this high percentage is not a holistic representation of the student’s ability and the program.) In other words, it is essential to acknowledge refugee-background student progress from where they started and when they graduated - it is not always about retention rates and statistics. 


Lastly, university or college institutions should be thinking about long-term integration, about student trajectories after graduation, for instance, by helping students from refugee backgrounds secure careers. Doing so, Waltermann says, “is paramount for successful integration...they can make huge contributions to society.” 

Members of the university community can support the UWC Refugee Initiative by donating to the program, volunteering, or spreading the word.

Meet SVR Volunteer, Miriam Cing

Miriam Cing, SVR Co-Chair  and Steering Committee Member

Miriam Cing, SC Co-Chair, Miriam Cing (she/her) is Zo, Chin and she was originally from Myanmar. She is a sophomore at Trinity College. While she is on the pre-med track, Miriam also majors in political science and minors in Urban Studies.  As an ambassador and a member of GirlForward’s first Student Advisory Board, she served as a key influencer in high-level decision making to provide a stronger more effective programming. By sharing her story as a refugee at WeDay, she accomplished to raise awareness of the reality of refugee/immigrant students in the United States.

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