Online Higher Education

Female Scholars in the Making


  • Hanan Duri York University
  • Dahabo Ibrahim York University



higher education, refugee, Dadaab, Kenya, lived experience, agency, techonology


            Online higher education has been a critical element in the lives of refugees trying to create a better future for their families and community (Kekwaletswe 2007; Crea and McFarland 2015; Giles 2018). Education programs in refugee and humanitarian contexts have been inadequate for a variety of reasons such as: a lack of resources and poor infrastructure, shortage of trained teachers, overcrowding, lack of funding from national governments and NGOs (LWF, 2015). In the last 10 years we have seen an influx of educational institutions and Northern-based universities partnering with development organizations to provide online higher education to bridge the gaps in quality education (Kirk 2006). There have been studies that speak to the potential of higher education for refugees from the perspective of development organizations. However, little has been said from the perspective of refugees themselves about their educational experiences in their local contexts. There are major differences in how men and women experience online education that deserves attention. 

Higher education equips refugees with the practical skills and qualifications to obtain employment opportunities within the camps or in their home countries should they return. It also enables them to think critically about their lives in a meaningful way. For women the impact goes even further, as it creates a path towards self-sufficiency, independence and empowerment (i.e., economically, politically and socially) (Kabeer, 1999). The gendered nature of access to technology has had significant impacts in the rates of participation (Kekwaletswe, 2007). Furthermore, it is also a pathway for creating female refugee scholars which is an area that is under-researched. Much of the writing on refugees by refugees themselves and development practitioners have been primarily male-dominated. The purpose of this article is to give the opportunity to heighten the female refugee scholar voice from the lens of a recent graduate of the Educational Studies program provided by York University under the Borderless Higher Education (BHER) project online higher education model. 

The purpose of this article is to explore the empowering potential of BHER’s online teacher education program that has allowed women (and men) to be critical, thoughtful scholars speaking about their experiences, on their own terms. BHER is a development project that seeks to build the capacity of untrained refugee teachers in the Dadaab refugee camps by delivering gender-sensitive teaching and learning skills that can build the capacity of future leaders and teachers in their communities. The findings shared in this article are from the direct experiences of Dahabo Ibrahim, who is a recent graduate of the Educational Studies program. It will highlight the unique experiences of women in Dadaab pursuing tertiary education, through their own lens. The value of women authoring their own lives, and what is meaningful to them in a patriarchal society and development industry. Our aim is to ultimately examine how female scholarship shifts the way we think about refugee education in the humanitarian context.


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How to Cite

Duri, H., & Ibrahim, D. (2020). Online Higher Education: Female Scholars in the Making. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 12(Winter), 181–198.



Winter 2020 Special Edition: Thriving in the Face of Adversity (Refugees)