Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Success for Equal Access at the University of Roehampton!

Katie Nguyen, President of Roehampton STAR from 2017 to 2020, gives her account of the STAR group successfully campaigned for the Sacred Heart Sanctuary Scholarship at the University of Roehampton.

Roehampton STAR at the RSU Fresher's Fair in 2019
Roehampton STAR at the RSU Fresher’s Fair in 2019.

Setting up a new STAR group

When I first came to Roehampton University (2017), they did not offer any form of scholarships or bursaries for asylum seekers. I knew I wanted to change that, but not sure where to start so I asked STAR and my student union (RSU). We concluded the best way to do the campaign would be forming a STAR group. However, there was another society that the RSU said were “too similar” to STAR, so we were not allowed to make a STAR society. Thus, I tried to contact the president of the other society, but we heard nothing. Eventually, with the help of STAR talking to RSU – explaining how the groups were different and since the other society were inactive – I was allowed to apply for a stall at Fresher’s fair the following academic year (2018-19). This first academic year (2017-18) was primarily focussed on the foundation – setting up a STAR group at the university.

Starting a new Equal Access Campaign

In the 2018-19 academic year, the Fresher’s fair happened and we had enough members and formed a committee to be an official society. RSU advised us to launch the Equal Access Campaign on the RSU ideas page. The ideas page is where any student can upload their idea and students vote on it. For the idea to pass, it must have at least 80 student votes (1% of the student population) within 2 weeks, with the majority of votes being positive. A previous idea – Roehampton University should offer scholarships or bursaries for refugees and asylum seekers that wish to pursue a degree – had been launched two academic years prior (2016-17) and had 90 net positive votes (106 voters). I contacted the graduate who submitted the idea to ask what happened after but, unfortunately, she said nothing else came of this once she submitted the idea. Since, that academic year (2016-17), it had been increasingly difficult for any idea to pass, as many students did not know about the page.

We decided to launch the Equal Access Campaign on the RSU ideas page, asking the university to offer scholarships, bursaries, fee waivers and accommodation for asylum seeking and refugee students. A sabbatical officer at RSU said, “Even though, an idea needs 80 votes to pass, you should aim for 200 to make an impact.” Within 2 weeks we got 221 net positive votes (227 voters); doubling the number of votes of the previous most voted idea. To pass we had to communicate to more students than just our members. We held events, communicated to other societies and went around speaking to students to have a bigger outreach to the student population; raising awareness of the issue and getting them to vote. During this time, we contacted and asked for advice from a student who asked the university the year prior (2017-18), to provide scholarships for the Grenfell Tower victims.

Working with other student bodies

Due to the idea passing, the president of STAR society was invited and gave a speech during the next Student Union Council (SUC) meeting (11th February 2019). The student council approved the idea, agreeing to proceed to the Board of Trustees’ meeting where an assigned group of Part Time Officers and Sabbatical Officers pushed the campaign by asking for the university to provide scholarships, bursaries and accommodation bundles for two refugee students. The RSU president at the time told us he was in talks with the Vice Chancellor about the campaign, but nothing was confirmed and there were no other updates regarding its progress. This was also during a handover period between two different Vice Chancellors.

Therefore, the president of the STAR society decided to run in the 2019 elections for a College President role. As Whitelands College President, you vote and attend in SUCs, Board of Trustees’ meetings and in many other meetings with the Vice Chancellor. Also, as a ‘College perk’, College Presidents are given free on-campus accommodation for the academic year they serve. The STAR president proposed the idea of giving away her ‘free on-campus accommodation for the year’ to a refugee student if elected as Whitelands College President. It was agreed and legalised with the university (RSU, Head of College, College Accommodation, University Accommodation Team and others). Thus, she ran in the elections and won Whitelands College President. As this was the first time any College President had decided to give their room away, the university took a while to fully implement the application system. Thus, the room was not taken by a student and the agreement to have the ‘free on-campus accommodation for a refugee student’ for the following academic year (2020-21) was agreed.

Securing a new scholarship

At the end of this second academic year (2018-19), STAR society was shortlisted for ‘Best New Society of the Year’ award at RSU Awards. We attended and heard the new Vice Chancellor’s speech at the ceremony. After, STAR president sent an email to the new Vice Chancellor explaining what STAR society had achieved, the accommodation situation and the equal access campaign. The Vice Chancellor replied and signposted us to the University’s Secretary and Registrar, in which the STAR president organised a meeting with him regarding the campaign. STAR helped prepare for the meeting and it was successful.

Roehampton STAR society further pushed the campaign by having access to those higher up within the university and in relevant meetings as Whitelands College President. Currently, Roehampton university is offering The Sacred Heart Sanctuary Scholarship, launched on 2nd March 2020. This scholarship includes a full tuition fee waiver, 52 weeks of paid for on-campus accommodation per year (where required) and access to a Maintenance Grant equivalent to the maximum government Maintenance Loan for each academic year”, for those with refugee, humanitarian protection status, discretionary/limited leave to remain and submitted an asylum claim in the UK.

Interested in learning more about Equal Access? Get involved in a STAR group and check out the Equal Access section of the website today!

Posted by STAR team on 17/11/2020 at 12:07 PM