UniRef Brings Harvard Courses on Web Programming to Syrian Refugees

Published July 14, 2023 

Courses mentioned in this post: Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Web Programming

Harvard Online is proud to provide access to education and experiences that help communities thrive.  

Most recently, Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, with support from edX, is delivering a Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Web Programming. UniRef is now helping hundreds of learners living in refugee camps and urban areas work towards completing the program.  

Founded by Yvelyne and Bryan Wood in 2013, UniRef strives to empower the refugee community by creating intensive and short-term professional training programs. Founder and Harvard Business School alumnus Bryan Wood says, “UniRef’s aim is to provide formal education to refugee students who do not have access to it."

Wide angle photo of a meeting room with people sitting at long tables listening to a lecture

Photo provided by UniRef

The need for this type of organization is clear: at least 103 million people globally have been forced to flee their homes, including nearly 32.5 million refugees (UNHCR). Of those, only 24% are enrolled in secondary education, and just 3% in higher education (UniRef).

In 2023, UniRef partnered with the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Jordanian Red Crescent (JRC) to bring web programming courses to Syrian refugees in Jordan. This UniRef program is intended to give young war victims the opportunity to fulfill their potential and equip them with skills to participate in the reconstruction of their country of origin or the economic development of their host country. When it was time to choose a course to anchor this program, UniRef identified Harvard Online’s Professional Certificate programs as the clear choice. 

100 learners currently residing in refugee camps and urban areas in Jordan have taken CS50's Introduction to Programming with Scratch course in preparation to complete the full Professional Certificate in Web Programming at no cost to the learner. 

Wood says, “A Harvard certificate will open many avenues for our students’ careers.”

Photo of woman wearing a mask working on coursework on a desktop computer

Photo provided by UniRef

This year approximately 300 learners will take the course and attempt the exam. For the duration of the course, UniRef will provide air conditioned classrooms, tutors, refreshments, and other support services to help learners complete the program. 

When asked about how students will benefit from the program, Bryan Woods cited Harvard’s global recognition and the convenient accessibility as two of the major benefits: 

“Students are excited by the prospect of receiving a certificate from Harvard. The hybrid mode of the courses is also convenient. Students who are in the city Amman (Jordan) can access the course from the JRC building, and those who do not reside nearby can access the course from their personal computers.”

As of May 2023, more than 80% of the learners who have attempted the certification exam have passed it, far exceeding the typical average for this course. For the learners who were unable to pass the exam on the first attempt, UniRef and the JRC will provide additional tutoring and support to help them successfully pass a second attempt. 

When asked about the future of learners and the program, the Woods were hopeful.

“UniRef hopes that following the completion of the program, the refugees will be able to enter into the formal labor market…We also hope to expand geographically and offer Harvard programs in other countries. The next project is to extend the program to Ukrainian refugees in Poland, where a UniRef mission is already in place.”

The combined efforts of UniRef, the Jordanian Red Crescent, and Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning is a testament to the transformative power of online education. By providing refugee learners with the opportunity to pursue professional certificates from Harvard, UniRef is not only equipping them with valuable career skills but also empowering them to shape their own futures. 

Learn more about UniRef or explore our Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Web Programming.

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