What is Voices of Refugee Youth?

© UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

What the research is about

The primary objective of the Voices of Refugee Youth research is to:

  • Contribute to building the evidence base for post-primary education for refugee youth, through a youth-centred methodological approach. 

The additional objectives of the research are to:

  • Inform good practice around refugee youth participation in high level research
  • Contribute to improving monitoring, evaluation and learning within refugee youth education programming
  • Grow the body of useful, rigorous research in the refugee youth education sector

 The research links to UNHCR’s efforts to support post-primary education for refugees and host communities. The Voices of Refugee Youth research focuses on Pakistan and Rwanda.

© UNHCR/Asif Shahzad

Why this matters

The benefits of education for refugee youth are well documented – whether they remain in protracted displacement, return to their country of origin, or resettle to a third country. For refugees in both short and long-term displacement, education is prioritised by children, youth and their parents for three key reasons. 

  • First, it has a protective function – in particular through equipping children with life-saving knowledge; enhancing psychosocial wellbeing; and, in certain contexts, safeguarding from potential recruitment into armed groups (Gladwell and Tanner 2014). 

  • Secondly, education can transform communities, building resilience at the individual and group level (UNESCO 2016a). 

  • Thirdly, education creates opportunity for the future, facilitating integration into local labour markets (Bonfiglio 2014), helping returnees to establish livelihoods in their countries of origin (Commonwealth Education Hub 2017), facilitating post-resettlement educational progression (Dryden-Peterson 2015), and training leaders for post-conflict societies that can thrive politically, socially and economically (Anselme and Hands 2011).

The critical importance of post-primary education in emergencies is increasingly acknowledged within the global community. Significant progress in access to primary education for refugee children has been made in recent years, but a huge gap remains in secondary education with only 24% of refugee adolescents enrolled compared to 84% of their peers globally and only 3% of refugees accessing tertiary education, compared to 37% of youth globally (UNHCR 2020). The Voices of Refugee Youth research will contribute to building the evidence base for the importance of post-primary education for refugee youth.

In addition to education access, significant global policy attention is being given to the transition between education and employment, in order to allow refugees to build an independent life in their host country and contribute to its economy (Dryden-Peterson and Giles 2010). Refugees are currently up to six times more likely to be unemployed than non-refugees (British Council 2018). The focus on transitions within the Voices of Refugee Youth research will enable the study to speak into the global conversation around transition into employment or further education.

© UNHCR/EAC/Paddy Dowling

How we work

The Voices of Refugee Youth research study is a longitudinal panel study across two countries – Pakistan and Rwanda.

The primary data collection method is a large scale survey conducted with refugee students in each country. In addition to the survey, the study will also use interviews and focus groups to supplement the findings from the survey, engaging with sector experts, UNHCR staff and key stakeholders within the education system in both countries.

A group of approximately 600 young people in each country will be tracked for three years, and will participate in surveys at four points across this period. The young people in each country are a mix of individuals from upper secondary (Class 12) and tertiary (final year of Bachelors) education. We will continue to track the young students as they transition out of education and potentially into employment or further studies.

The study takes a participatory approach where 15 young refugees (Youth Researchers) in each country have helped to shape the initial design of the study, have had input into the creation of the data collection tools (surveys, interviews and focus group templates) and will collect the majority of the data, conducting peer-to-peer surveys, interviews and focus groups. Central to the study is the training and support provided by Jigsaw and REUK to the Youth Researchers. In advance of any data collection, the Youth Researchers receive training in social science research methods to equip them for the researcher role. The training materials form a graduate college level certificate in social innovation research, and will be an academic credential transferable among internationally recognized universities.

What is a panel study?

Panel studies are a type of longitudinal study where the same units of analysis (often people), are followed at specified intervals over a long period, often years. The key feature of panel studies is that they collect repeated measures from the same sample at different points in time.

© UNHCR/Sam Phelps

The difference your participation makes

Over 1000 young refugees are taking part in this research. Because of this, global  understanding of the importance of secondary and tertiary education for refugees will be strengthened. This improved understanding helps governments, international and national organisations working around the world, to better plan their approaches to supporting refugees and helps them to more easily request the funding required for their projects. 

Those who are participating in this research are engaging in an important study that will help to shed light on the challenges faced by refugees as they seek to access secondary and tertiary education, and provide a better understanding of the obstacles and opportunities facing refugee youth as they seek to transition to employment or higher education.  

Over the long term, our hope is that, as a result of this research, more young refugees will be able to complete secondary and tertiary education – and that the education they receive will be meaningful, high quality and a useful tool for building a more positive future.

© UNHCR/Antoine Tardy

The research partners

Voices of Refugee Youth is a research study funded by Dubai Cares as part of the E-Cubed research envelope. The study focus and approach was developed by Jigsaw and REUK in close collaboration with UNHCR and refugee youth in Pakistan and Rwanda. Find out more about the research partners below:

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares is a UAE-based global philanthropic organisation that works towards providing children and youth in developing countries with access to quality education. Since its inception in 2007, the organisation has successfully launched education programs reaching over 20 million beneficiaries in 60 developing countries. Dubai Cares also plays a key role in helping achieve the UN SDG4 on quality education. To learn more, please visit www.dubaicares.ae

The Evidence for Education in Emergencies (E-Cubed) Research Fund aims to strengthen the evidence base in EiE, by supporting contextually relevant and usable research, and disseminating global public goods. Dubai Cares partnered with INEE in 2017 to design and manage this research fund. To learn more, please visit inee.org/evidence/e-cubed


Jigsaw is a social enterprise working in the international development and humanitarian sectors.

We engage in research, evaluation and strategy: everything we do is focused on using rigorous evidence for lasting change in our areas of expertise.

Our work focuses on four main areas: education and learning, refugees and forced migration, faith and religion, and digital technologies.

To learn more about our research visit: www.jigsawconsult.com


Refugee Education UK

Refugee Education UK (REUK) is a UK-based charity which helps refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people build more hopeful futures through education. Working with more than 500 young people across the country, REUK connects volunteer educational mentors with young refugees, provides specialist educational and wellbeing support to those with acute needs, offers advice and guidance to young people on their journey into higher education, and conducts training and research for practitioners on best practice in the refugee sector. REUK also coordinates an innovative values-based youth leadership course, which encourages young people to believe in themselves and make positive change in their communities. By investing in young people and their education, REUK seeks to create opportunities and stability for young refugees as they settle in the UK. 

For more information about our work, visit:  www.reuk.org/home 



UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in line with the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees and the 2030 Agenda, aims to foster the conditions, partnerships, collaboration and approaches that lead to all refugee, asylum seeker, returnee and stateless children and youth and their hosting communities, including the internally displaced in those communities, to access inclusive and equitable quality education that enables them to learn, thrive and develop their potential, build individual and collective resilience and contribute to peaceful coexistence and civil society.

The three strategic objectives outlined in the Refugee Education 2030 – A strategy for refugee inclusion are:

  1. Promote equitable and sustainable inclusion in national education systems for refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, stateless and internally displaced persons;
  2. Foster safe, enabling environments that support learning for all students, regardless of legal status, gender or disability;
  3. Enable learners to use their education toward sustainable futures.

For further information visit our website: www.unhcr.org/education or write to: [email protected]