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23 September 2021

In case you missed it, we held a film screening and panel discussion about the benefits of opening access to higher education to refugee and asylum-seeking students in the UK. In partnership with Universities of Sanctuary and Birkbeck, University of London, we brought together lived experience activists, experts, and representatives from UK universities. If you’re interested in pushing for your institution to join the movement welcoming refugees to higher education in the UK, catch up and watch the recordings below.

Watch A Road to Travel

In the UK, people seeking asylum or with ‘limited leave to remain’ are usually unable to access student finance and are charged higher international fees. Others who have overcome significant barriers to continue their education often need additional financial support to take up their place. University scholarships for students from these backgrounds, often known as ‘Sanctuary Scholarships’, are gateways to university for people who would otherwise be locked out of higher education due to their immigration status. 

Janahan Sivanathan, a refugee from Sri Lanka, was caught in the asylum process for years. Access to university gave him, in his words, ‘a road to travel’ – a pathway to new opportunities. He attended Birkbeck, University of London thanks to its award-winning Sanctuary Scholarship programme, and has just completed his LLB. He’s been an active student leader, has already secured a full-time job in his field, and is committed to helping others access university. Like so many Sanctuary Scholars, Janahan has had a hugely positive impact on his university, enriching student life and academic culture.

Janahan and six of his fellow Sanctuary Scholars share their experience in A Road to Travel, a short film produced by director Anna Konik in partnership with Birkbeck, University of London. The film gives a snapshot of the power of educational opportunities to transform lives, open doors, and offer hope for the future.

‘It’s given me a second life, an opportunity. And finally, for the first time in a very long, long time in my life I have a purpose.’ – Michael, STAR Equal Access Activist and Compass Project alumnus in A Road to Travel

The benefits of Sanctuary Scholarships for universities

Sanctuary Scholarships ensure that talented and dedicated students aren’t locked out of university because of their immigration status. Setting one up means joining a movement of over 70 universities creating a culture of welcome and support for people who have sought sanctuary in the UK. But it can be challenging to set up a new programme. Sometimes the conviction that this is the right thing to do is not enough when weighed against all the competing demands on budgets.

If you’re looking for ways to convince your institution’s senior management team to commit resources and take action, watch the recording to hear senior university leaders and Sanctuary Scholars share how scholarship programmes for refugee and asylum-seeking students tangibly benefit universities as well as their recipients

From the promising funding opportunities that a scholarship programme can generate, to the benefits of a diverse student body, and the ways in which a scholarship can help your university put its values into practice – the panel gave a wide-ranging and inspiring insight into the ways in which expanding access enriches university life.

  • If you are a member of staff interested in setting up or expanding a scholarship programme for refugee and asylum-seeking students at your university, get in touch with us at equalaccess@star-network.org.uk.
  • This event was organised in partnership with Universities of Sanctuary and Birkbeck, University of London. We would like to extend our thanks to Anna Konik, director of ‘A Road to Travel’, and the panel members, Caroline McDonald, Daniel Mutanda, Richard Follett and Merwa Zen.

Siobhán Coskeran is STAR’s Access to University Coordinator. She co-ordinates the Equal Access campaign to improve access to university for people from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds in the UK.

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