Supporting refugees’ access to higher education

Prof. Jacqueline Stevenson – Sheffield Hallam University

Refugees and asylum seekers are rarely out of the news. The UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) calculates that there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014 whilst the figures for 2015 are likely to be higher as a consequence of the continuing war in Syria. Developing countries bear by far the burden, hosting over 86% of the world’s refugees. The UK in contrast takes in very few asylum seekers receiving only 38,878 new applications throughout the whole of 2015. Those who were able to claim asylum in the UK face an uncertain future, however, as they are normally only granted leave to remain for 5 years.

This can make planning for the future highly problematic: without indefinite leave refugees can’t access student loans; on top of this they may find that their prior qualifications are not recognised, or that their needs and entitlements are not understood. These concerns aside, however, many refugees still consider that gaining a HE qualification offers the best chance to make a new life in a new country. It is heartening therefore to see that universities are increasingly looking to support or fund initiatives designed to facilitate refugees’ access to higher education. This includes those institutions who have become part of the Scholars at Risk network which arranges temporary research and teaching positions for scholars in danger https://www.scholarsatrisk.org; other universities are working with Amnesty to provide support to students, or are offering their own institutional bursaries and scholarships. In addition, Article 26 is working with an increasing number of universities to support students who have sought sanctuary in the UK to access and succeed in higher education http://article26.hkf.org.uk. There are also a number of mentoring schemes working with refugees and working in partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield and Sheffield City Council, I will be launching a refugee mentoring scheme in the next academic year.

I am keen to hear from other universities who have something similar in place so please do contact me at jacqueline.stevenson@shu.ac.uk.

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