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PIE chat | Laura Cowboy, Duolingo English Test

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 PIE chat |  Laura Cowboy, Duolingo English Test

Joseph was one of the first students Laura Cowb advised when she started working at the school African Leadership Academyan organization that supports the development of promising young leaders across Africa.

He was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whom Kaub describes as “an extraordinary young man who has endured extremely horrific circumstances.”

The chances of going to college or university were against Joseph. Only according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). 5% Refugees have access to higher education, compared to 39% of non-refugees.

“I remember him sitting across from me at the table, and he was like that I just want to go to college and don’t know where to start“Cowboy said.

Kaub’s role at the time focused on helping prospective students, such as Joseph, navigate the complex world of international admission, from finding the right institution to applying for funding to a physical trip abroad (many refugees lack passports and other legal documents).

So where is Joseph now? With the help of Kaub and her colleagues from ALA Joseph studied and graduated from university. He now works in the MasterCard Foundation’s Scholars Programsupporting refugee students in accessing higher education.

Cowb with Joseph Munyambanza, Mastercard Scholars program, and Christopher Hayemba, inaugural dean of the African Leadership Academy.

“It’s kind of a win,” Cowbe said. “If you see someone coming to a university where they are really well-suited and developing, that’s the best. And then to see how they actually unfold and get involved in this work is a cherry on top. ”

Earlier this year, Kaub took on a new leadership role English test duolingoThe latter’s program, which – during the pilot phase – plans to enable 25 refugee students to enter universities.

The project was designed to support UNHCR 15×30 an initiative aimed at increasing the participation of refugees in higher education to 15% by 2030.

In addition to directly increasing the number of refugee students attending the university, Duolingo wants to help increase the capacity of UNHCR staff and local officers to have connections and frameworks to support more refugees in higher education in the future.

Cowboy with five MasterCard Foundation fellows from her ALA program

Cowb did not always work with such disadvantaged students. Prior to joining the ALA, she worked in an admissions group at the College of Humanities in America.

“It was such a privilege,” she said. “I needed to travel around the world and tell the students all about this amazing institution.”

But Kaub found it sad that the college only covers the richest international students.

“I felt much more like a watchman than a gatekeeper, especially in an institution with limited financial aid. No matter how generous they are, there are still so many excellent students who need financial support, ”she said.

And so, Cowboy moved to the other side of the table and the planet, moving from the US to South Africa to start working at the ALA.

Cowboy with Ntakamaze Nzionvira, co-founder and CEO of the CIYOTA refugee organization.

But opening the gates to disadvantaged students is not easy. Lack of information, lack of financial aid and the “inflexibility” of the admission process are among the obstacles in the way of low-income and forcibly displaced international students.

For this, Kaub is critical of universities.

It despises how many of them limited financial aid to international students during the pandemic, even as their funds continued to grow.

She condemns their often impenetrable admission processes, which only work for students who can “fly to another country to pass the TOEFL or SAT”.

But Kaub also hopes that higher education can – and will – change.

“I think there is a lack of brave and innovative universities”

“I would very much like universities to look at their processes from the perspective of a foreign student with a low income or a refugee and say,‘Is it good that we can just run away? ‘she said.

“I think not enough universities are showing courage and innovation and looking for ways they can facilitate the process itself.”

Cowb is firmly convinced that colleges and universities should not view refugee students as a burden. Most institutions, she says, already have mechanisms to support them.

“It’s probably no different than what you already do for some students on your campus,” she said.

“A low-income student from a neighboring city may need the same additional training as a child coming from the Central African Republic.”

Cowb wants to hear from universities that are interested in supporting refugee students or want to make English testing more accessible. After all, a more diverse cohort can benefit everyone.

“Students from all walks of life, including those of genuinely troubled backgrounds, have all this perspective, wisdom and resilience, determination and dedication to study,” Cowb said.

“They bring so much to society, and they can enrich education so much for other students at the university.”

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