Unblocking university for displaced people

Today we begin a new series of blog posts around EAL. Our first is from Anna Lindley of SOAS (the School for Oriental and African Studies) in London. She writes about what universities can do for displaced people, including a new scholarship scheme.


anna-lindley
Anna Lindley

In the last couple of years, as government policy around immigration becomes increasingly hostile, there have been occasional glimmers of light. This blog post focuses on the growing array of initiatives and scholarships targeting people who have been displaced and are trying to make a life and pursue higher education in the UK. A small number of institutions have long been active in this field, but efforts by universities to expand access to people who are refugees or in precarious immigration situations have grown considerably since the surge in public awareness around displacement, particularly from Syria, in 2015. Teachers of English have a special position because they are able to advertise these opportunities to their students who are struggling to make the move into higher education. And many of the deadlines are coming up in the next month or two.

Teachers of English have a special position because they are able to advertise these opportunities to their students who are struggling to make the move into higher education. And many of the deadlines are coming up in the next month or two.

There are two main groups of people who might benefit from these initiatives. The first is people who have been recognised as refugees or given humanitarian protection status. They have established a relatively secure legal status and generally are able to access student finance. However, they often face serious barriers to obtaining and taking up a university place because their earlier qualifications are often not recognised. Studying also often involves substantial commuting/relocation costs, as well as often being hard to reconcile with family responsibilities in the UK and to relatives abroad.

The second group is more precarious. It includes people who apply for asylum but wait long periods to hear the outcome of their application, living on very minimal state assistance with their lives on hold. Sometimes children who have grown up and gone to school in the UK, but whose parents did not have legal status, find that they are cast adrift at 18 with no possibility to continue their education. There are all kinds of ways people can end up in immigration limbo, facing an uncertain future with very limited rights and entitlements. People in this group, even if they have managed to obtain some form of Limited Leave to Remain, are typically classified as international students for fee purposes, and have no access to Student Finance. This effectively blocks the vast majority from going to university.

So what are universities doing to recruit students from these excluded groups? One obvious course of action is to offer tuition fee and/or living support scholarships. The organisation Article 26 – whose name derives from the call for equal access to higher education based on merit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – has been working since 2005 with displaced students and university administrations to widen access. Its website offers a comprehensive listing of scholarship opportunities offered by institutions across the country, for academic programmes from Foundation to PhD, along with clear guidance on eligibility.

SOAS is offering seven ‘Sanctuary Scholarships’ targeting displaced people who have obtained the offer of an academic place to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level

For example, my own institution SOAS is offering seven ‘Sanctuary Scholarships’ targeting displaced people who have obtained the offer of an academic place to study at undergraduate or postgraduate level, but who are not eligible for student finance. We are offering a full tuition fees scholarship to selected students, and are currently fund-raising so that we can supplement this with some support towards living expenses (full details here).

Beyond scholarships, there are other initiatives various universities are taking to open up access. These include offering home fees for asylum seekers which can make it easier to apply for charitable funding; connecting displacement issues with the wider widening participation agenda; raising awareness across academic, administrative and support staff of how to support students with immigration issues; and making efforts to open up campus events, facilities and spaces to people living locally.

We need to do more – for the benefit of all. Higher education can help people get on in life and contribute to society. Students who have been through so much, and have got to the point of applying to university can bring strong motivation and insight into our classrooms, enriching universities as institutions. Government emphasis on restricting immigration to ‘the brightest and the best’ overlooks so much, including the untapped potential on our universities’ doorsteps.

Anna Lindley

Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London, al29@soas.ac.uk

 

Useful links:

SOAS Sanctuary Scholarships deadline 1 March https://www.soas.ac.uk/registry/scholarships/soas-sanctuary-scholarships—201718.html

Guidance and scholarship listing from Article 26 http://article26.hkf.org.uk/student-bursaries/2017-18

Refugee Support Network telephone helpline & resource pack: http://www.refugeesupportnetwork.org/higher-education

Let Us Learn http://www.justforkidslaw.org/let-us-learn

Cities of Sanctuary universities resource pack https://universities.cityofsanctuary.org/

NUS / Student Action for Refugees Equal Access Campaign http://www.star-network.org.uk/index.php/campaigns/equal_access

 

 

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