International Campus Media

“More can be done” to improve access to HE for refugees – UUKi

Universities UK International has released a report guiding universities through the best practices to develop strategies to help refugees access higher education.

There are almost 40 million young people among the 65 million refugees worldwide, and many are missing out on education on all levels. “This loss of individual opportunity and human potential is immense,” UUKi commented in a statement. With only about 1% of refugees worldwide in higher education, universities have a crucial role to play according to the organisation.

“This is an incredibly important issue and UK universities are already contributing in a wide variety of ways,” UUKi director Vivienne Stern said in a statement.

“This includes 60 universities who have launched bespoke scholarship schemes and impressive initiatives supporting, for example, displaced people in the Lebanon and Jordan. However, there is considerably more that can be done.”

In the opening statement to the report, chair of UUKI’s International Policy Network, Steve Smith, said the report doesn’t aim to tell universities what they should do.

Instead it should alert HEIs to the “myriad” of possibilities universities have to engage with displaced people, “both as learners and colleagues.”

“We can – as a community – help to mitigate in some part the many challenges and consequences of displacement faced by millions of people every day,” Smith said.

The report illustrates initiatives in the UK and around the world, and both in the university and in the local community. From scholarship schemes to TNE projects, and from research to outreach services engaging with communities, it also features best practice and case studies from projects currently running in the UK.

Institutions are for example helping refugees and asylum seekers access higher education through scholarships and providing them with tailored support and named contacts during the application process. Other organisations, such as the eighty-year-old Council of At-Risk Academics, support and provide sanctuary to displaced academics.

In the wider community, institutions and staff or student-led organisations are engaging with displaced communities. De Montfort University, for example, runs projects offering free English language or IT skills lessons, while King’s College London’s Student Action for Refugees support young children from refugee backgrounds in London.

Outside of the UK, projects such as the Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access will deliver blended programs to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, while organisations such as the Alsadi Changing Lives Program help universities organise volunteer activities.

The report provides a framework for developing and reviewing strategies at institutional, local, national and international level, and resources covering a wide area from pedagogy of English as a second language to the legal framework affecting refugees.

Commenting on the report, a UUKi spokesperson told The PIE News that the organisation will provide further support and assistance for universities that are planning to implement the recommendations outlined in the report and that resources and case studies will be shared on its website.

“UUKi is working with partners, such as the British Council, CARA and the IIE to provide coordination and support for universities who wish to engage with the report’s recommendations,” they said.

While there is no general system yet in place to monitor the effectiveness of the initiatives listed in the report, the Department for International Development-funded Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform is supporting the PADILEIA project and insights will be shared with the higher education community, the UUKi spokesperson explained.

The European Students’ Union advocated for a streamlined system to allow refugees and asylum seekers to access higher education in a recent statement in response to the European Commission’s call for a public consultation on the future of the Schengen visa.