An international diplomat says Australia should offer more scholarships to refugees.

Speaking at the Australian International Higher Education Conference in Hobart this week, Portuguese diplomat Helena Barroco said refugees need more educational opportunities.

Attendees from over 30 countries at the event were told that just 1 per cent of the world's 65 million refugees had a university degree.

“Higher education [is the] key to train the next generation of leaders, who will rebuild the country,” she said.

“Otherwise, if you don't invest in young people during the crisis, who will rebuild war-torn countries?”

In Australia, around 17 per cent of people have a degree.

Worldwide estimates in 2011 found about 6.7 per cent of the world's near-7 billion population had a degree.

Ms Barroco has been running a program in her home country that has helped 150 Syrian university students get scholarships overseas.

She said there were many more people needing the same help.

She called for emergency scholarships to be established by universities, paid for in part by the refugees' fellow students.

“If you think that around the world there are 230 million students, if you asked those students when they register at the university to contribute with one pound or one dollar, you can also have funds available for scholarships to support refugees,” she said.

The Refugee Council of Australia says people on temporary protection visas can often only study if they pay international student rates.

While some states are filling in the gaps, and universities are beginning to offer scholarships too, advocates want a cohesive national programme.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said through a spokesperson that the Australian taxpayer already funds $1.9 billion worth of help each year for refugees onshore.

“At the same time, we are among the most generous nations in the world for our refugee and aid programs,” the minister said.