Increasing access to higher education in Jordan and Lebanon

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) (2017-2021) aimed to facilitate access to higher education for Syrian refugees and disadvantaged host community members in Jordan and Lebanon through the development and delivery of blended higher education programmes. In partnership with King’s College London, Al Al Bayt University (AABU) in Jordan, the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon, Kiron Open Higher Education and FutureLearn, higher education pathways were offered to learners through:

  • Bespoke short courses with academic-developed content delivered online or in a blended learning format offering a taster into healthcare, entrepreneurship, business management, English and digital skills.
  • Contextualised foundational programmes to prepare students for university.
  • University credit-bearing courses delivered online.

The project’s learning ecosystem model, offering blended learning delivered online and in-person through study hubs, combined with its unique holistic design approach and wrap-around student support services, provided a flexible and supportive learning environment that has helped to meet a range of student’s needs.

Students graduating from the foundational programme at AUB. Photo credit: AUB.

Key achievements

  • 1,117,174 learners worldwide enrolled onto PADILEIA short courses via FutureLearn.
  • 492 graduates from the foundational programmes at AABU and AUB.
  • 102 graduates accepted into university for further study.
  • 365 students supported by mentors in English language practice, scholarship applications, peer to peer exchange.
  • 58% of learners who completed courses were female
  • 1,704 students completed PADILEIA courses on Kiron Campus


A summative evaluation of the project, carried out in 2021, highlights the significant impact PADILEIA has had on beneficiaries. The project has enhanced student’s self-efficacy and motivation, developed their subject-specific knowledge, equipped them with the transferable and soft skills needed for further education and work, and contributed to increasing their sense of belonging and feeling part of a community. Nearly a quarter of those who completed courses are studying at university and 38% report volunteering or working. Within the region, PADILEIA has contributed to a greater awareness amongst Higher Education Institutions of the need to support access to education for refugees and the value of both online and blended learning.

PADILEIA courses delivered through physical study spaces within refugee camps, on university campuses and in bespoke community spaces provided students with social and physical benefits such as access to laptops, tablets, books and the internet, as well as the chance to socialise and make friends, including with peers in other countries. Trained facilitators and instructors helped students to successfully navigate online learning, adapting content to encourage participation and motivate students to succeed. The integration of a blended learning design – online access and facilitated courses within study hubs – increased reach and offered student’s flexibility to study at their own pace and in diverse locations.

Teachers were very nice and highly qualified, they motivated us to learn and participate, they also motivated us to apply for scholarships. The teachers tailored the classes and the contents to the students’ level.”

PADILEIA student

“I learned new things and gained limitless experiences [that] I enjoyed sharing with friends in addition to the information I learned in everything related to business management.”

PADILEIA student
PADILEIA students at AABU. Photo credit: AABU.

PADILEIA courses enabled students to improve their subject-specific knowledge, notably English language and digital skills, and strengthen their communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. 81% of students that took part in the evaluation said they felt more confident because of the courses, with many reporting using their newly acquired skills in work, to complete university assignments and to apply for jobs and university. Over 70% said the courses they had taken would benefit them in the future.

“I also learnt how to write a business plan and since I finished my course I applied for grants to start a business. I was given a grant recently to start my own business. Without the business [short] course, I would not have been able to apply for this kind of grant.”

PADILEIA student

Students were also able to access language and academic support alongside their studies through the project’s needs-based mentoring and peer-to-peer network programmes. Students and professionals from the UK volunteered with PADILEIA to offer English speaking practice, help with writing CVs, personal statements as well as scholarship applications. The peer-to-peer scheme, piloted in the final year of the project, highlighted the value-added of cross-cultural exchanges for both volunteers and mentees on their personal development.

“I learned that its vital to empathise with other people’s cultures and traditions to understand why they think the way that they do, and that their perspectives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. I also got to practice my public speaking and mentoring skills, which was great.”

King’s College London student volunteer

“[Volunteering] was a really valuable experience – I felt I was helping people and possibly building their confidence to learn English, and at the same time I learnt some useful things about teaching and which techniques are most effective.”

King’s College London student volunteer
Learners in the PADILEIA study hub. Photo credit: AUB.

Lessons learned

Student-centred design: Content that reflects student needs, is context-specific and culturally relevant is critical to engaging learners.

Blended learning: Facilitation by trained instructors offers vital support to learners particularly where English language and digital literacy skills are low. Novel forms of support such as instant messaging services were invaluable in helping to facilitate communication between students and teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Holistic approach: A combination of academic development, extracurricular activities and mentorship is crucial to a positive learning experience, particularly the provision of psychosocial support for vulnerable groups.

Study hubs: Physical study spaces offer a social learning experience as well as the benefits of in-person learning. The opportunity to meet and interact with peers has potential for facilitating integration of refugees within their local communities.   

Onward transitions: Focusing on building transferable skills and diversifying exit pathways such as opportunities for employment, volunteering and further education are critical where financial barriers to access remain.

Peer-to-peer support networks: Mentorship and peer-to-peer support from student and professional volunteers in the UK facilitated a cultural and knowledge exchange in an informal setting that has benefits for both mentors and mentees.   

Technological barriers: Poor internet connectivity particularly in refugee camps presents a significant barrier to access. Course design should prioritise making content available offline and ensure equitable access to devices and internet cards when needed.

Future steps

PADILEIA’s short courses will continue to be an asset in the future due in part to their capacity to be accessed on-demand and, when needed, with facilitation. The courses continue to be available to learners globally through FutureLearn as well as Kiron’s platform, Kiron Campus, including access to its student support services. PADILEIA’s study hubs remain a legacy of the project. With funding from HOPES-LEB, AUB’s Centre for Civic Engagement and Community Service are running the foundational programme for students for another year. PADILEIA assets are also being used at AABU to expand access for women in al-Mafraq and Syrian refugees. AABU have also committed to ensuring 20% of its courses are delivered online and 50 to 60% through blended delivery.

Download our Community Report in both English and Arabic.

Learn more about the impact of PADILEIA in our summative evaluation final report.

Find out about the SPHEIR programme

Download a summary of our key achievements

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