Strategic plan 2017-20

STAR is the movement of students building a society where refugees are welcomed and supported to lead happy and successful lives as equal members of our community.


STAR is a national charity founded by students at Nottingham University in 1994 with support from UNHCR and the British Refugee Council.

Our work since establishment has been focussed on welcoming refugees to the UK by empowering students, refugees and supporters to take positive action for refugees by: • Volunteering to support refugees in the community • Campaigning to change policies which adversely affect the lives of refugees • Educating people about asylum in the UK

Our experience is that an informed and enthusiastic network of students has the energy and commitment to give immediate assistance to refugees by volunteering to provide services such as English conversation practice while improving the long term reception of refugees by educating their peers and campaigning for change. STAR uses the term “refugee” to include everyone who has or is seeking refugee protection in the UK.

Our structure

STAR is a membership charity and our members are STAR student union societies at universities and further education colleges in the UK and Ireland. The Board of Trustees are elected by the student members and delegate responsibility for running the charity to the Chief Executive.

Each STAR group delivers its own work and is managed locally by a committee of members. STAR groups also work on projects together and meet regularly.

This Strategic Plan is the result of consultations during the 16 – 17 academic year with our members, refugees who participate in our projects, partner agencies, the trustee board and staff team.

External context

The number of refugees in the world is at a record high at 22.5 million people, 5.5 million people have fled the conflict in Syria and 2.5 million from Afghanistan. Most refugees are living close to the conflict countries, Turkey which borders Syria is hosting 2.9 million. The refugee crisis in Europe which began in 2015 has seen an increase in arrivals to Europe but the numbers arriving in the UK remain low, just 28,891 applied for asylum in the UK last year.

This reflects in part the lack of safe and legal routes for people to seek refugee protection, over 3,700 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean last year. One solution is to increase resettlement places and the UK has done so from 500 each year to about 5,000 from the Syrian conflict, however the UN is asking for that number to be doubled.

Refugees who do arrive in the UK can face significant challenges in both claiming their right to protection and building new lives here, key challenges include

  • Complex and restricted process of claiming refugee protection, 36% of decisions to refuse asylum are overturned on appeal
  • Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and those without their own funds must live on state support of £36.95 per week in “dispersal” accommodation across the UK
  • Hostile public opinion

The crisis in Europe has shifted public opinion some way in favour of refugees, as witnessed by the huge British volunteer effort at the camps in Calais and Greece. However that support is fragile and opinion is increasingly polarised. Following the terrorist attack in Paris there was a 16% drop in UK public support for offering resettlement to Syrians.

Our current activities

The current CEO and Deputy Director joined STAR in 2008 and 2009 respectively and undertook a restructure of the organisation leading it from a youth volunteering charity to a refugee charity, powered by student activists. Since that time STAR has grown from 2,000 students at 15 universities to over 27,000 students at 43 universities and colleges. We have also grown our funder base, employed more staff and enhanced the Board of Trustees.

The STAR student groups are recruited, trained and supported by the staff team to deliver:

Volunteering to support refugees in the community STAR students provide the backbone to local partner refugee projects across the UK by working as volunteer staff. Our volunteering programmes see over 1,500 students powering 84 partner projects to deliver vital services to over 4,000 refugees. Our 12 English Conversation Clubs alone serve 1,250 learners each year and are delivering excellence due in part to pro bono support from the country’s leading language school, International House London.

Educating people about asylum in the UK STAR students educate fellow students and the wider community about refugee protection and the experiences of refugees in the UK. We do this by staging events including debates, lectures, exhibitions and plays and by writing and sharing information in the media and across our own social media platforms.

STAR’s educational events provide a platform to the wealth of refugee related plays, speakers and film while the students also produce their own material such as Cardiff STAR’s annual Refugee Rhythms which hosts over 500 students in the student union bar. Over 30,000 people attend our events each year and many more are reached through our media work.

Campaigning to change policies which adversely affect the lives of refugees. Through our campaigning and advocacy work, we are able to mobilise thousands of students to call for change at the same time. Our Equal Access campaign on access to higher education has seen the creation of scholarships for refugees and asylum seekers at over 50 universities and most recently succeeded in ensuring Syrians resettled under the VPR scheme are now granted refugee status instead of humanitarian protection.

The staff team train over 2,000 STAR group leaders annually, enabling them to mobilize students at their institution and to educate their peers.

In addition to empowering and supporting the STAR students, the staff team deliver projects themselves including advising universities on how to develop their scholarship programmes for refugees and building an international student led refugee movement. The staff team also provide advice and capacity building support to fellow agencies e.g. assisting Help Refugees in their volunteer led services in Calais and the UK.

In 2012 we established the Regional Asylum Activism (RAA) project which was a step away from our student focussed work. This major project has seen three dedicated staff deliver campaigns, advocacy and movement building with refugees and supporters in the West Midlands, Yorkshire & Humberside and the North West. Successes have included the opening of a new NHS service for asylum seekers and a BBC documentary on FGM and asylum which kickstarted the creation of new FGM prevention legislation. The RAA project and it’s three staff have now been transferred to City of Sanctuary and to become the foundation of the new Asylum Matters project, giving STAR back a huge amount of capacity to devote to our core business of empowering students to welcome refugees.

Our vision

We want to build a society where refugees are welcomed and supported to lead happy and successful lives as equal members of our community.

Our values

Refugee focussed -Our work and all of our decisions will always be in the best interests of refugees.

Inclusive All students will be able to contribute to STAR, and students, refugees and staff will work as a team in which everyone is empowered to contribute to the success of the vision.

Volunteer powered Student volunteers will play a lead role in delivering our work and they will be engaged, informed and supported by a core team of paid expert staff.

Responsive We will work with refugees, students and partner agencies to ensure our work is sensitive of and responds to the constantly changing external environment.

Practical We will always seek the simplest, cheapest solution which is in the best interest of refugees.

Collaborative We will always work closely with organisations which share our vision, we will generously share information, expertise, resources and credit, and promote a culture of collaboration between organisations.

Expert We will ensure that the student movement is led nationally by a team of experienced professionals with significant expertise in their field.

What we do

Engage students to welcome and support refugees by providing practical voluntary support, educating the public and campaigning for change.

Who we work with

We are a highly collaborative organisation based on the principle that there will never be enough resource to achieve our goals and each organisation and individual has their own set of expertise and connections and is therefore best placed to lead on that area. Our primary collaborators are:

Students at universities and colleges, refugees, student unions, the NUS, higher education institutions, colleges, UK based refugee and migrant organisations, human rights and humanitarian organisations, higher education and student organisations, journalists, parliamentarians, civil servants and funders.

Goals for 2017 – 20

Maintain, develop and expand the student network

  • Grow our student network to 50 groups
  • Grow our network at further education colleges to 1/5 of our membership
  • Increase the number of paid staff supporting the student network
  • Expand our tailored training programmes for STAR students
  • Collaborate with individuals and agencies internationally to support the creation of STAR-like movements in other countries

Deliver direct services to refugees

  • Continue to train and support students to volunteer at partner refugee projects
  • Increase the number of refugees we assist to 4,000 pa
  • Expand our English Conversation Clubs from 12 – 20
  • Create programmes to support refugees to apply for university

Promote understanding of and positive attitudes to refugees and refugee protection

  • Continue to support students to deliver educational events on campus
  • Improve website and social media communications
  • Develop a network of student spokespeople
  • Promote the work of STAR students as positive examples of refugee welcome to the UK

Increase our work advocating for the rights of refugees

  • Lead the Equal Access campaign to ensure asylum seekers and people with humanitarian protection have equal access to higher education
  • Collaborate with partner organisations to increase safe and legal routes to refugee protection in the UK
  • Collaborate with partner organisations to identify and deliver further campaigns in which the student movement can make a significant difference to the lives of refugees in the UK.

Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our charity

  • Diversify and increase our sources of funding
  • Improve our methods of data collection and recording so that we can communicate better with STAR students and STAR graduates
  • Invest in staff and volunteers through training and development • Enhance governance by recruiting Board members with additional skills
  • Develop our work to meet the changing needs of refugees in the UK

Use our expertise and knowledge to develop good practice both inside STAR and externally

  • Ensure STAR students receive expert support and assistance for their work
  • Support the work of other organisations by providing advice and sharing our good practice
  • Develop collaborations with organisations seeking to empower students to welcome refugees or improve access to higher education for refugees