Below we’ve answered some common questions about applying to university while seeking asylum or from a refugee background.
Applying for university
Yes – in most cases people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim (asylum seekers) and refugees are able to attend university in the UK. An individual’s immigration status will however affect the fees that they are expected to pay and their eligibility for a student loan (see below).
Home Office guidance states that asylum seekers should have permission to study. However, in certain cases, asylum seekers may be subject to a ‘no study’ condition as part of their immigration bail which can restrict their ability to attend university. You can find out whether you have permission to study or not by checking your BAIL 201 letter. If you have been given a ‘no study’ condition, seek legal advice as it may have been given in error.
The process of applying for university varies depending on whether you are applying for undergraduate or postgraduate studies. Read more about types of degrees in the UK on the Complete University Guide website.
- Undergraduate: To apply for an undergraduate degree, you must apply on the UCAS website. The deadline to apply is usually in January. You can apply for up to five universities through UCAS – make sure you apply to universities that have scholarships for which you are eligible. If you’re unable to meet the January deadline, you may be able to apply through UCAS Extra which is usually open until 30 June. You’ll need to check with the university you’re applying to first to make sure they’ll accept your application. Read more on the UCAS website.
For students applying to start their course in 2023, UCAS has introduced a new section in the application so you can share more information about your circumstances with the university or college – including whether you are a refugee, asylum seeker or have limited leave to remain in the UK. This information means the university or college will be able to connect you to the right support for your needs quickly and easily and ensure you have all the information you need. Read more about the information you provide in the UCAS application.
- Postgraduate: To apply for a postgraduate degree, you can apply directly through the university’s website. While deadlines for postgraduate applications vary, it’s better to apply early to ensure there is time to apply for a scholarship. Research postgraduate courses using Myriad by UCAS.
The Universities and College Admissions Service, or UCAS, is an independent charity through which all students hoping to study at undergraduate level or below apply for courses. When applying, prospective students will be asked for information including personal details, details of student finance, course choice and education details. More information can be found on the UCAS website, including a guide to applying via UCAS and information for refugees and asylum seekers.
Qualifications and preparing for university
The UK National Information Centre for the recognition and evaluation of international qualifications and skills (UK ENIC) evidence the level of overseas qualifications for those who are interested in studying at a UK university (as well as those seeking employment). For a fee, they will issue a ‘Statement of Comparability’ which will provide evidence of the level of your overseas qualifications, which can in turn be provided to the university for their information. More information and the application form can be found on the UK ENIC webpage.
Many universities are also able to offer advice about international qualifications. Check the university website for more information about their admissions requirements or contact the admissions team if you have questions.
The qualifications you need to attend university in the UK vary depending on the course and the university that you’re applying for. Information about admissions requirements should be available on the university’s website.
In general, to apply for an undergraduate degree you need to have relevant Level 3 qualifications, which includes the following:
- A Levels
- BTEC awards, certificates and diplomas at level 3
- International Baccalaureate
- NVQs at level 3
- Access courses
Often, universities refer to UCAS tariff points to decide whether to grant a place on a course to an applicant. UCAS tariff points convert qualification grades (e.g. an A, B or C grade) into a numerical value. A detailed breakdown of the UCAS tariff system can be found on the UCAS website.
Universities may also ask you to prove your level of spoken and written English, for example through an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. Check the university website for information about the English language qualifications that they accept.
This may be possible depending on the institution and course you are applying for. Many universities offer ‘contextual admissions’, as part of which they offer lower entry requirements to account for barriers to attending university that individuals may have faced. If you are seeking asylum, you may be eligible for a contextual admissions offer. Check the admissions pages of the universities you are applying to for information about whether you will qualify for contextual admissions, or contact the university for advice.
Many organisations and universities offer free English language support for refugees and people seeking asylum. Take a look at the ‘English language programmes’ and ‘Online courses’ tabs on STAR’s list of pre-university courses.
Scholarships and funding
Sanctuary scholarships are packages of financial support provided by some universities to applicants who may have faced difficulties accessing higher education due to their immigration status. The scholarships sometimes have different names (for example Article 26 or Equal Access Scholarships). A full list of available scholarships can be found on the STAR website. It is important to note that these scholarships are administered by individual universities and are varied in terms of:
- Who is eligible to apply
- What courses are covered
- The level of financial support offered
- The application process
Information on eligibility can be found on the individual university’s website.
If you aren’t eligible for any of the scholarships offered by universities or are in need of additional financial support, there are alternative sources of funding available on STAR’s Other scholarships and grants page.
The process of applying for a scholarship varies depending on the university. In most cases, you must apply for a course at a university before you apply for a scholarship. It’s important to check the deadline at the university you’re applying to, and leave plenty of time to fill out the application as it can be time-consuming to complete. Read STAR’s guide to applying for scholarships and watch our scholarships information session for more advice.
Yes – many universities offer scholarships for Master’s courses and PhDs. On the STAR scholarships list, select ‘Filter by level of study’ and tick the level of study that you are looking for. Universities may also offer other scholarships or bursaries – check the university website to see if they offer any other scholarships that you may be eligible for.
There are also nationwide scholarships available for postgraduate study, including those offered by the Marks Family Charitable Trust and the Black Heart Foundation. See our full list of alternative sources of funding available on STAR’s Other scholarships and grants page.
Student loans, also known as student finance, are government-sponsored loans to help people cover the costs of studying at university. If you are eligible, you can apply for a loan to cover your tuition fees and maintenance (living) costs. You will then repay the loan after your studies, once you have a job and are earning over a certain threshold. Different loans are available for undergraduate and postgraduate study. You may also be eligible for additional bursaries depending on your course and your financial situation. Read more on the GOV.UK website.
In the UK, people with different immigration statuses have different eligibility for financial support known as student finance. There are different levels of finance and different eligibility criteria in the different nations of the UK, so it’s important that you check the rules in detail. In general, if you have refugee status or Humanitarian Protection you are eligible for student finance on the same basis as a British citizen. This may mean that you can apply for a student loan to cover your course fees and living costs. If you are seeking asylum, you cannot access student finance.
If you have discretionary or limited leave to remain, you may be eligible for student finance depending on where in the UK you are resident and how long you have been resident in the UK. Read more on the UKCISA website.
Whether you qualify for student finance also depends on your university or college, your course, if you’ve studied a higher education course before, and your age. Read full details on the GOV.UK website.
Tuition fee status
Universities charge different fees depending on your residence status, your course and the level of study you are applying for. There are also different fee rates in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In general, people seeking asylum are charged international fees. However, universities have the ability to set their own fee rates and individual universities may have a policy of charging home fees to asylum seekers. Check with the universities you’re applying to, to find out if this is the case.
If you feel that you have been wrongly assigned ‘international’ student status, it is important that you do not sign any documents and contact your institution to query the decision and explain why you feel it may be wrong. If this decision is not overturned, help and advice may be available elsewhere in your institution (for example the student union) or alternatively you can contact the UK Council for International Student Affairs’ (UKCISA) Student Advice Helpline on +4420 7788 9214 open Monday to Friday 1pm to 4pm (except for public holidays).
If your immigration status changes while you are at university, this may have an impact on your fee status and eligibility for student finance (see above). If you are on a scholarship, ask the university at the start of your course what support will be in place if your status changes during your studies. If you are in need of additional financial or well-being support at any time during your studies, contact student support services at your university to ask for advice and information about hardship funds.
STAR campaigns for access to university (higher education) and we aren’t able to offer advice about access to college (further education). For more information about access to college, visit the Refugee Education UK website.
Individuals who arrived in the UK through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) or the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) schemes are normally eligible for student loans and home fee status. Whether you qualify for student finance also depends on your university or college, your course, if you’ve studied a higher education course before, and your age. Read more on the GOV.UK website.
You may also be eligible for a university scholarship. Where scholarships explicitly include individuals with indefinite leave to remain, we have added this to the STAR scholarships list. If you are unsure, contact the universities to find out if your application will be considered.
We have also collected information for students affected by the crisis in Afghanistan.
Individuals who arrived in the UK through the Ukraine schemes (the Ukraine Family Scheme, the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme or the Ukraine Extension Scheme) are normally eligible for student loans and home fee status. Whether you qualify for student finance also depends on your university or college, your course, if you’ve studied a higher education course before, and your age. Read more on the GOV.UK website.
You may also be eligible for a university scholarship. Where scholarships explicitly include individuals on the Ukraine schemes, we have added this to the STAR scholarships list. If you are unsure, contact the universities to find out if your application will be considered.
We have also collected information for students affected by the war in Ukraine.
There are various ways to get involved in STAR’s Equal Access Campaign and the STAR network:
- If you are a university student or applicant from a refugee or asylum-seeking background, join the Equal Access Network.
- If you are at university, join a STAR group or start a new group to campaign for Equal Access at your institution.
- To stay up to date on access to university opportunities for refugees and people seeking asylum, sign up to the Equal Access mailing list.
- Read more about the Equal Access Campaign on our Take Action page
STAR campaigns to improve access to university for people who are seeking refugee protection in the UK, so we are unable to offer guidance to people who are overseas. However, the following organisations may be able to help:
- UNHCR Opportunities – An online platform with information about university scholarships that are open to displaced people worldwide.
- CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics) – CARA provides urgently-needed help to academics in immediate danger, those forced into exile, and many who choose to work in their home countries despite serious risks.
- Some universities offer scholarships for people who are displaced overseas. Examples include the University of Nottingham, the University of Dundee, and the University of Manchester.