Thursday, February 01, 2018

‘The opportunity to improve and thrive’ - for asylum seekers & refugees

So much is being done and there is so much more to do.

This seemed to be the takeaway from a special one day conference in London (31st January 2018) about improving access to higher education for asylum seekers and refuges.

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The event – the first of its kind hosted by STAR and NUS – heard from a wide range of leading figures. These included Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS.

Calling for a national strategy to address the issues she told more than 70 invited participants that “UK universities need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

“We criticise government policies around immigration and tell ourselves that we run open, diverse and liberal institutions but less than half of us have committed to helping refugee students access higher education.”

STAR and NUS have been working on Equal Access since 2012 as a result of the huge barriers facing asylum seekers and refugee students wishing to go to university.

One of the main stumbling blocks is student finance – with asylum seekers classed as overseas students and therefore asked to pay significantly higher fees than home students.

Now almost sixty universities offer scholarships or fee waivers; several NGOs are delivering bespoke support and many refugees and asylum seekers are studying as a result.

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Left to Right – Shrouk El-Attar, Baroness Valerie Amos, Emma Williams & Tamara Smith

The Conference heard first-hand about the potential of education to transform the lives of those who have sought refugee protection in the UK.

Shrouk El-Attar, a student at Cardiff University and refugee from Egypt, said: “Education is the way out. It was certainly my way out. Between when I came to the UK and when I was allowed to go to university was seven years. I am so proud to be studying at a university which has Equal Access.”

Growing movement

Emma Williams, STAR’s Chief Executive, said that bringing everyone together in one room showed there was a “growing movement of support” for Equal Access.

“Our campaign is bringing down the barriers to better lives. We want to make this happen right across the university sector,” she said.

There’s currently close to 200 scholarships, over 100 living and study grants and around a dozen institutions offering home study fees.

The estimated value is just over £3.6m – less than 0.5 per cent of the overall £900m investment in widening access to education UK universities are predicted to make this academic year (2018-19).

As Tamara Smith, STAR’s Equal Access co-ordinator and pivotal figure behind the Conference pointed out, “STAR groups are a huge asset delivering this work. They are campaigning at so many universities to increase Equal Access.”

Uplifting examples of good practice came from Bath, Birkbeck, UCL and Kings College London. There followed a range of workshops focussing on different aspects of Equal Access and supporting refugee and asylum seeking students.

Offer hope

President of the NUS, Shakira Martin, then struck another positive note in keeping with the mood of the day.

“As millions still seek refuge, we must be there to welcome them with open arms. We must make sure we continue to offer hope…..our world class higher education is for everyone. It is time to prove it.”

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Ahmad Al-Rashid closes the Conference

That theme was taken up by Ahmad Al-Rashid – a SOAS Graduate and campaigner who fled the civil war in Syria. He won a rousing ovation in closing proceedings with a rallying call for increased availability of Equal Access.

“For me this [university] has been a life transforming experience. I wanted to get the opportunity to improve and thrive.

“As a human being you do not only focus on surviving – you want to thrive.”

Posted by STAR team on 01/02/2018 at 03:29 PM