American University of Beirut

The Change Program: Paving the Path Forward to Tertiary Education for Vulnerable and Refugee Youth in Lebanon

​Research Report​


Nicole Eid Abuhaydar, Executive Director, Unite Lebanon Youth Project
Menaal Munshey, PhD Researcher, University of Cambridge

Executive Summary:

The aim of this study is to analyze strategies to support refugee students in Lebanon to access higher education. This study uses the Unite Lebanon Youth Project’s (ULYP) Change program as a case study to draw wider lessons for refugee education in Lebanon, and to specifically understand how refugee students can be best supported in transitioning from school to access higher education. 

ULYP is an NGO founded in 2010 and works with children, youth, and women today for a better tomorrow, leveraging education as the tool for development. ULYP launched the Change program in 2017, targeting vulnerable youth in their last year(s) of secondary education to enhance their academic performance and increase their eligibility to enroll in tertiary and vocational programs and to transition there smoothly. So far, there have been three cycles of the Change program: 

▸ In 2017, the program targeted 75 refugees, mainly from Syria (PRS and SR), enrolled in Grade 12 in public, UNRWA, or subsidized schools, and ran for 12 months. 

▸ In 2018, the program targeted 300 students, including refugees from Palestine (PRL and PRS), Syria, and marginalized Lebanese youth, in Grade 11. The program enrolled students in 11th grade and ran for two years. The program was run in three locations (Saida, Bhamdoun, and Beirut).
▸ For 2020-21, a one-year on-going program has 70 Grade 12 students from the same populations as the previous year. 

Drawing on interviews with five teachers and program administrators, and five surveys with a sample of 225 students, this study builds understanding on the challenges ULYP faces in implementing Change, what strategies were used to overcome these challenges, and ultimately how Change supported students in transitioning between secondary and higher education. This is also a seminal study on the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the national lockdown for refugee education in Lebanon. 

Ultimately, to ease students through the transition from secondary to higher education, practices identified as impactful, including developing life skills, improving English language proficiency, assisting with university applications (scholarship opportunities and SAT preparation) as well as holistically preparing students for life at university. Throughout the delivery of the program, the team remained flexible and adaptable within a rapidly changing environment. 

Change was successfully able to familiarize students with various universities, guide them through the applications, and arrange full university scholarships for a large number of students. This marks a significant change from student’s attitudes towards higher education prior to attending the program, and demonstrates the success of the program in supporting refugees and vulnerable youth in Lebanon to transition from school to university. 

Education, for the most vulnerable in Lebanon, including Palestinian refugees, Syrian refugees, and marginalized Lebanese, is often of poor quality, if available at all. While the Lebanese government, UNRWA, and other organizations are engaged in efforts to improve the overall quality of education, vulnerable youth in Lebanon often fail to see a path forward to tertiary education. It is this path that the Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) seeks to pave through its Change program, with the motto “Change starts with education.” Change aims to fill the gap of self-belief and access by providing educational opportunities to vulnerable youth in Lebanon. 

This paper will present ULYP’s Change program as a case-study of an initiative working to support vulnerable youth, especially marginalized Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian refugees, in the transition between secondary and tertiary education in Lebanon.​

​Read the paper.

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