Supporting African Students Displaced by War in Ukraine Can Foster Diversity and Inclusion In American Universities


According to a report by the World Bank, more than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since February, and among these, about 665,000 are students. International students who were studying in Ukraine prior to the war have been affected the most–many are still stranded in temporary shelters and refugee camps in Europe. BBC estimates that there were around 16,000 African students studying in Ukraine prior to the outbreak of war

While the European Union put in place a number of concrete measures to support native Ukrainian students, international students have unfortunately not been accorded the same kind of support because it is assumed that they can simply return to their home countries where they can complete their studies. But this is hardly an option. For most African students, studying in Ukraine was the only hope for overcoming the chronic lack of opportunities in their countries. As such, it is imperative for American universities to extend their support to these students who are now facing a dearth of opportunities to complete their degree studies. 

8B Education has recently partnered with seven universities to  advance this goal. These include Keuka College, MacEwan University, Smith College, Hobart William and Smith, Illinois State, and Minerva. In total, the institutions have pledged about 13 million U.S. dollars in financial aid for the students. Additionally, they have waived their transfer application deadlines to accommodate applications from the affected African students. 

There are several benefits American universities stand to gain by tapping into the highly diverse pool of displaced students. According to a 2015 study by McKinsey, organizations that lead in racial and ethnic diversity tend to outperform their peers. In educational institutions, prioritizing diversity and inclusion enables students to solve problems across differences. By learning to work alongside peers who may have very different backgrounds from them, students get used to navigating culturally diverse environments from an early age.

In the last few decades, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs have become increasingly important in American universities. This is not without good reason. The world is changing rapidly and attitudes that were considered normal a few decades ago are no longer acceptable. Discrimination based on race, class, and gender is no longer entertained in professional and academic environments. Because institutions of higher education are a core part of our societies, their role in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion cannot be underestimated. As the world struggles to deal with the effects of the war in Ukraine, American universities have a unique opportunity to support the displaced students, an initiative that can bolster their DEI goals in a major way. 

While diversity, equity, and inclusion may all seem to refer to the same thing, they actually have different meanings. Diversity means having a community with people from a wide range of backgrounds. In a diverse community, you will find people who profess different religious faiths, people of different races, nationalities, classes, genders, etc.

Equity, on the other hand, refers to the processes by which people are given a fair opportunity based on their own specific circumstances. For instance, in an environment that values equity, students with dyslexia will be given all the support they require to ensure they stay on par with their peers.

Lastly, inclusion means creating communities where all members feel valued. Bringing people of different backgrounds together will certainly not mean much if the contributions of some members are ignored.

Over the years, colleges and universities have taken and experimented with a variety of approaches to attain the DEI goals. These include training workers to understand the value of diversity and inclusion, holding regular meetings to discuss diversity issues, hiring from more diverse talent pools, creating mentoring programs for underrepresented groups on campus, among others. Due to these measures, American universities are now more diverse and inclusive than they have ever been. But more remains to be done. Despite the great strides that have  been made, millions of students remain excluded from higher education. 

While the world is currently facing an economic downturn that is certainly affecting institutions of higher education, extending financial support to displaced students is not going to cost an arm and a leg. If every university in North America pledged to support even a tiny fraction of the students displaced by war in Ukraine, it would be possible to absorb all the students in just a few months. Embracing the displaced students would not only be life-changing for them but also a boon to the diversity and inclusion goals that universities have been striving to attain in recent years.

Dr. Lydiah Kemunto Bosire is the Founder and CEO of 8B Education Investments, a financial and education technology platform specialized in lending to African students to attend world-class global universities and supporting them to succeed. 8B is on a mission to strengthen Africa’s human capital by equipping the continent’s future leaders and ecosystem builders to innovate, compete, and thrive in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Prior to founding 8B, Lydiah worked at the United Nations, the World Bank, and leading global NGOs. Most recently, she served as lead for the UN-World Bank Partnership at the Department of Political Affairs of the UN Secretariat. While completing her studies at the University of Oxford, Lydiah co-founded Oxford Transitional Justice Research.
Lydiah completed her doctorate (D.Phil) in Politics at the University of Oxford. She also holds a Master of Science from Oxford, where she attended as a Clarendon Scholar. She received an undergraduate degree with honors in Government and a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.



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