University pledges to welcome refugees on World Access to Higher Education Day

26 Nov 2019

The University of Winchester has joined other UK universities to put pen to paper on a new commitment to increase access to higher education for refugees and asylum seekers.

The UK pledge has been signed by 15 universities and will be unveiled on World Access to Higher Education Day (26 November), alongside the global statement of support coordinated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The pledge commits universities and other organisations to continue and expand their work on access to higher education for refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Practically, this support will take the form of scholarships, University of Sanctuary initiatives, student action and through building on the many other contributions already undertaken by the sector.

Professor Joy Carter CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester, said: "Having become the first University of Sanctuary in the south of England in recognition of our initiatives to welcome refugees and asylum seekers and support them in higher education study, we are delighted to commit to this sector pledge.

"Winchester is a caring, values-driven institution, committed to social justice. We warmly welcome those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries and we value the contribution those seeking sanctuary bring to the University and more widely to the city of Winchester. This new pledge requires us to have a reasonable expectation of expanding our support for people seeking refugee protection in the next decade. Education is life-changing and it is important that other higher education institutions which have a shared goal of access to higher education for all people seeking sanctuary also commit."

Examples of the University's support for forced migrants to access higher education include:

  • The University received a Sanctuary Award from the City of Sanctuary charity in December 2018 in recognition of its initiatives to welcome refugees and asylum seekers and support them in higher education study.
  • The Sanctuary Awards programme, which waives tuition fees and offers a bursary of £3,000 a year to support the costs of study. To date, over 30 forced migrant students from 17 countries have received awards.
  • An outreach programme which includes hosting family days to bring Syrian families together to help them socialise and meet volunteer University staff and students, delivered in partnership with the Rural Refugee Network; and three-days residentials for asylum-seeking children and young people to experience university life (including visiting other universities in the region).
  • The Forced Migration Network of more than 30 academics and support staff who are involved in research, teaching and support for asylum seekers and refugees. The University is also a member of the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) fellowship programme, which helps academics in immediate danger and those forced into exile.

The UK pledge is being led by Student Action for Refugees (STAR), the national network of student groups working to improve the lives of refugees living in the UK, and Universities of Sanctuary, established to help universities develop a culture and practice of welcome within their own institutions and their wider communities.

STAR's CEO Emily Crowley said: "We've been campaigning for improved access to university for refugees and people seeking asylum for over 10 years. Thanks to the commitment of these institutions we are seeing our dream of a society where refugees have equal access to education become reality! We see first-hand how life changing being able to go to university can be on an individual level, but we also know that everyone benefits if you give people the opportunity to be part of society and contribute."

City of Sanctuary Streams and Partnership Manager, Ben Margolis said: "More people than ever before are living forcibly displaced from their homes and seeking sanctuary elsewhere. In the UK, a growing number of communities are committed to ensuring that their towns and cities are places of sanctuary. Universities have a vital role to play in ensuring the forced migrants are able to access Higher Education, and also in working with their local community to improve the practice and culture of welcome."

The UK pledge comes in advance of the first-ever Global Refugee Forum (17-18 December 2019), where UK universities will pledge to continue and expand their work opening up their campuses to refugees, led by STAR and City of Sanctuary.

The universities which have signed the UK pledge are: Birkbeck College University of London, Cardiff Metropolitan University, De Montfort University, the University of East Anglia, the University of Hull, the University of Leicester, the University of Lincoln, the University of Liverpool, the University of Manchester, the University of Sussex, the University of Warwick, the University of Winchester, York St John University and the University of York.

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