Stories of refugees attempting to escape their war-torn homes have been well documented in news outlets over recent years. Many of their readers are familiar with Britain’s role in providing refugees with sanctuary. However, less documented is the role that universities play in giving refugees a route back into education. Most Warwick students are unfamiliar with the opportunities that the University offers to help integrate refugees into society through education.
In fact, last year, Warwick attained a ‘University of Sanctuary’ accreditation in light of its support for refugees. The idea of Universities of Sanctuary developed out of the ‘City of Sanctuary’ movement. The purpose is to create a culture of welcome and hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers at a local level. But what exactly has the University done to receive this accreditation?
Its main focus seems to be the provision of ‘sanctuary scholarships’. For the coming 2018/19 academic year, Warwick is offering four undergraduate and five postgraduate scholarships. Successful applicants will receive full tuition fee support due to their immigration status restricting access to student finance. Undergraduates will also receive the maximum maintenance loan of either £8,430 or £7,097 depending on whether the student will live away from or in the parental home.
The scholarship programme helps to cement Warwick University’s role within the local community
The biggest strength of this programme is the opportunity to regain normality that it provides to those who have experienced upheaval in their lives. Attending university encourages much more than higher education, helping to build character and confidence as well as opening the door to other opportunities. Having a degree can be the stepping stone into a career, thus allowing refugees, to find a place within society and create a brighter future for themselves and their families.
As well as helping displaced individuals create a new life for themselves, the scholarship programme cements Warwick University’s role within the local community. According to the Coventry Telegraph, Coventry has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other city in the UK, and this commitment led to the city being awarded City of Sanctuary status in 2011. The attainment of this award demonstrates the city’s promise of creating a welcoming environment and increasing awareness of the refugee crisis. Warwick’s role in the Universities of Sanctuary initiative shows the University’s willingness to adapt to their changing local environment and play a supporting role in a City of Sanctuary.
However, Warwick’s programme is not without its weaknesses. One clear weakness is the strict criteria potential applicants must meet to apply for the scholarship. The criteria stipulate the applicant must have sought asylum and been granted either DLR (Discretionary Leave to Remain) or LLR (Limited Leave to Remain) status. This unfairly excludes asylum seekers, who often have to wait several years for a decision to be made on their immigration status. As well as this, applicants must be unable to access Student Finance.
When speaking to the president of campus society STAR (Student Action for Refugees), the issue of awareness was also raised, as he stressed the need for the University to do more to promote the programme. Strangely enough, since the last academic year there has been a decline in the amount of scholarships offered, which is unusual given Warwick’s attainment of ‘University of Sanctuary’ status. Given how few scholarships there are, this is a concern.
One clear weakness is the strict criteria potential applicants must meet to apply
Peter Dunn, Warwick’s Director of Press and Media Relations, affirmed that there is an ongoing commitment from the University to helping refugees. Efforts to improve the programme are observable in the Annual Helena Kennedy Foundation Article 26 conference, which was hosted at the University of Warwick in September 2017 and brought together students and administrators to share research and ideas. The three-day event also entailed workshops for sanctuary scholars on CV writing, settling in at university, dealing with the ‘drinking culture’ on campus, and time-management.
Despite the areas requiring improvement, it is clear that the sanctuary scholarships initiative constitutes a step in the right direction. Other societies including Law Society and Enactus already play an active role in making the University a more welcoming environment for refugees through conversation clubs which allows them to practice their English, and by supporting local charities. In addition, for the first time this year, there will be a dedicated ‘Refugee Week’ (26 February-2 March) run campus-wide with the intention of raising awareness and encouraging people to get involved.