UEA has announced that it is planning to provide a small number of scholarships for Syrian refugees. The announcement comes shortly after a petition created by the Union of UEA Students’ Migrant Solidarity Campaign began to circulate online.
The Migrant Solidarity Campaign was set up at the beginning of the academic year. Since then, it has tried to help Syrian refugees through campaign efforts such as organising clothing collections for refugees in Calais. On 1st January, the society started a petition asking for UEA to offer scholarships to Syrian migrants. Written as an open letter to UEA’s Vice Chancellor, Professor David Richardson, the petition, started by Robyn Sands, the campaign’s president, called upon the university to “please consider offering five [article 26] scholarships for the academic year 2016-17”.
[su_spoiler title=”UEA Migrant Solidarity Campaign’s petition letter to Prof. David Richardson” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]Dear Professor David Richardson,
I write to you in my capacity as president of UEA Migrant Solidarity Campaign about an important issue that has come to my attention. I urge you to please consider this matter as swiftly as possible and we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you further at a suitable time between 4th and 12th January.
Through my volunteering with the Norwich organisation New Routes, which helps to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into the local community, I became aware of the unfortunate situation many refugees of college and university age find themselves in. The complexity of the asylum process means that many families are left awaiting a decision or going through an appeals process for up to five years. During this time, asylum seekers are entitled to some benefits but are not allowed to work, and of relevance here is that the children of those families are not entitled to student finance and in some cases, depending on their asylum status, can even be charged as international students.
I also learned that this is not a hypothetical scenario, but that there are many people who find their access to higher education blocked even in a small city like Norwich. Naturally, this waiting period can be devastating to a young person’s life plans and academic growth. However, I also learned of a project started by the Helena Kennedy foundation called the Article 26 Campaign which helps asylum seeking students overcome this obstacle to higher education. It does this by encouraging universities to offer Article 26 Awards or Scholarships to a small number of asylum seeking students each academic year. A list of universities offering these scholarships and far more useful information can be found on the Helena Kennedy Foundation website. (article26.hkf.org.uk/). UEA Migrant Solidarity campaign have been working to gather relevant resources which we can share upon your request. I was disappointed to find that UEA was not on the list.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is access to education, and it states that ‘higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit’. It seems to me to be clear that for many young people in the UK this is not the case. A family who are not allowed to work and must live on benefits cannot afford to pay for their child to go to university. During this time period, a hopeful student will find their human right of access to higher education on the basis of merit denied. I know that in this country and especially in our higher education institutions we like to think of ourselves as those who uphold human rights- unfortunately, while UEA does not offer access to the many students in this position who may want to study here, I believe it may be in violation of Article 26.
Many universities offer only one or two of these scholarships. UCL have been outstanding and have offered 6 scholarships after campaigning by students. UEA Migrant Solidarity Campaign committee urge you to please consider offering five of these scholarships for the academic year 2016-17. As UEA recruits more than 2,000 paying undergraduate students per year the financial implications of this will be of little concern to the university. The implications, however, for upholding human rights and making UEA a progressive institution which accepts students on the basis of merit rather than income, will be widely felt, not least to those students who would love the opportunity to study here. I know personally of asylum seeking students in this area who would like to apply to UEA but cannot, simply because they cannot afford it.
UEA Migrant Solidarity Campaign[/su_spoiler]
The Article 26 Campaign, started by the Helena Kennedy foundation, encourages universities to offer scholarships to asylum-seeking students so that they may study at a higher education level. The campaign gets its name from Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.
At the time of going to print, Migrant Solidarity Campaign’s petition has been signed by 114 people. However, it appears that the petition is no longer required as a university spokesperson has exclusively revealed to Concrete that UEA already intends to create such scholarships. “Plans for Article 26 Scholarships are already in progress. We hope to offer a small number of scholarships specifically for refugees who live in Norfolk and we are working with a Norwich-based refugee agency to develop our plans”.
On 7th September last year, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that the UK would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees as a part of the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. The scheme has already seen 5,000 Syrian nationals granted asylum in this country since 2011.
However, there have been calls for the government to do more to help Syrians in need. Immediately after Cameron’s announcement, Labour’s then-Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, claimed that the government’s plan “did not go far enough”.
Responding to the news that UEA intends to introduce Article 26 scholarships, Sands said: “Article 26 scholarships are an important part of upholding the freedom of education in this country and I’ll be proud to be a part of a university which values access based on merit and not ability to pay.
“Article 26 scholarships don’t cover maintenance. Offering them to people in Norfolk is a wise move as it gives a student more opportunity for support; however, I hope this will be expanded to people from elsewhere at some point, as UEA is fast becoming a prestigious university which many would be grateful to attend”.
[su_pullquote]The Migrant Solidarity Campaign wants UEA to introduce 5 Article 26 scholarships.[/su_pullquote]She went on to urge the university to have plans in place by the end of this week – that is, before the Ucas deadline for 2016-17 applications passes – so that Article 26 scholarships could be in place for potential students who wish to start studying in September. “It’s very important to me that UEA announce their plans in time for the Ucas deadline on Friday”, she said.
The univeristy has not yet clarified the exact details of its plans, nor has it stated how many Article 26 scholarships it intends to create, or indeed when such scholarships will be offered. The spokesperson said: “More details will be shared when [the plans] are finalised”.