University of Edinburgh shows little progress on policies for asylum seekers

The University of Edinburgh has yet to take a clear stance regarding the waiving of international fees, and the provision of additional monetary support for asylum seekers in Scotland, despite rising pressure from activists.

In November 2015, while speaking to The Student, a university spokesperson said: “We will be providing clear and accessible information on our support for students and staff by early December.” However, despite continual requests being made, no information has become accessible to the student body or the general public on what level of support will be provided.

While the University student led group, Equal Access Edinburgh, continues to push for support for asylum seekers both from the University and Holyrood, the University has continued to operate behind closed doors on what their actions will entail.

A meeting last Monday at the University to address this topic was restricted to the Principal’s Strategy group at the University, comprised of the University’s senior officers and convened by the Principal. Representatives from Equal Access were not granted access and no information has been publicly released thus far. However, Equal Access is currently awaiting promised documentation of the outcomes.

Speaking to The Student, Nina Marsh from Equal Access said: “They don’t have a definitive time that they need to release the information by, and I think you can request the information, but that’s a process that takes quite a long time. It’s just sort of a waiting game at the moment.”

The provision of bursaries through SAAS funding would be a monumental step toward equal inclusion of asylum seekers in the educational system, activists say. While discussing SAAS funding, Marsh told The Student: “There’s a list of Universities online which shows all the bursaries you can get for asylum seekers. That’s quite a clear list saying this is what you can get, and Edinburgh University is not at all mentioned on that list.”

Shauna McGarry, also from Equal Access, told The Student: “Another problem with them not having put anything in concrete is that it might not be advertised to asylum seekers. If there’s no official document on it they have no clue that they can contact the University, so even though they’ve said it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can happen unless they put something publicly.”

Meanwhile, on 15 January, EUSA and Equal Access Edinburgh publicly handed in an open letter to Scottish Parliament signed by 14 student’s unions calling on the politicians to open up Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) funding to Asylum seekers.   Collectively, the student unions represented over 200,000 students in Scotland.

One part of the letter reads: “In Scotland, the fact that asylum seekers cannot access SAAS funds to cover their home tuition fees or any form of government grants or bursaries to fund their education remains a critical barrier to accessing education.”

But activists have pointed out that even if the University exempts asylum seekers from international fees, Scottish docile fees are still £1,820 annually and that is a fee that is likely not reasonable for many of those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.

Speaking to The Student, Nuri Syed Corser, an Equal Access representative, said: “We are assuming that the University is being true to its word and will start to process them [asylum seekers] as home students, but we are hoping that they go beyond that and really make university accessible by waiving those fees entirely.

“It is within the University’s power to take steps to make itself accessible as it does provide bursaries for students from other disadvantaged backgrounds. So it seems that they should also do the same for asylum seekers.”

Image credit: Flickr: Takver 

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