Urte Macikene, Vice President Services at Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), is campaigning for the Scottish Government to provide tuition fees, loans, and bursaries to asylum seekers.
Currently, Scottish domiciled undergraduate students can have their full tuition fees paid as well as access bursaries of up to £1,750 and loans of up to approximately £6,000 through the support of Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) funds.
However, asylum seekers are not eligible for these funds and are still required to pay the fee of £1,820 in regards to their tuition status being classified as home students by the University of Edinburgh, an article published by The Student last week confirmed.
In an open letter to the Scottish Government written this month, Macikene claims that asylum seekers’ lack of entitlement to funds “remains a critical barrier to accessing education.”
Speaking to The Student, Macikene expressed her disapproval of the long process asylum seekers must go through in order to try to obtain their refugee status and access SAAS funds.
“During this time, asylum seekers are marginalised in society in a variety of ways, including not having the right to work, not having access to many types of benefits, and being allocated sub-standard housing without the ability to choose their location”, she said.
“The British government wants to minimise the number of asylum seekers granted refugee status, and treats them as second-class citizens.”
Asked by The Student if she thought enabling asylum seekers access to SAAS funds was the solution to ensure their housing and tuition fees were covered, Macikene replied positively.
She said: “This would be a great step, and would remove the initial barriers to tuition fees which may entirely discourage asylum seekers from considering a degree.”
She went on to explain that the existence of tuition fees for asylum seekers made it extremely difficult for them to regain previous qualifications they held in their home countries as they are “often not recognised in the UK, or impossible to verify given destruction taking place in home countries, making it very difficult to find work suited to their skills even if granted refugee status and the right to work.”
Macikene is also working with the University to ensure greater access to all appropriate university-funded bursaries and grants to cover additional costs that may arise for asylum seekers, such as food and utility bills as well as access to academic materials.
“The university could also provide fee waivers at their own discretion for asylum seekers, meaning they would be exempt from all fees and the university would absorb the cost”, she commented.
She also added: “Community initiatives such as room-shares are also helpful and universities should facilitate them.”
Furthermore, Macikene is working towards collecting signatures from other student unions and hopes to present the open letter to ministers by the end of November. She is also having on-going discussions about this issue with various senior university staff and government officials.
“The Scottish Government has policies which are much more supportive of asylum seekers within their powers, but allowing access to SAAS is one step which hasn’t been taken yet”, she told The Student.
Image: A pile of children shoes in Budapest, Hungary. Credit: Mstyslav Chernov