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Petition demands greater university support for asylum seekers

A petition has called on the University of Edinburgh to provide more financial support for asylum seekers seeking entry to university.

The petition, launched on Change.org by the advocacy group Equal Access Edinburgh Uni, calls for the University to “stop excluding asylum seekers”. It asks the University to classify asylum seekers as UK home students instead of international students, who pay heftier fees.  It also requests more bursary and living cost support.

“If Edinburgh University truly seeks to portray itself as a globally-orientated and socially responsible institution, then it must act to include potential students from all backgrounds”, the document reads.

The petition had gathered 161 online signatures at the time The Student went to print.

However, a statement provided to The Student by the University on Friday appeared to indicate that the University was already meeting many of the demands made.

A spokesperson of the University said: “The University of Edinburgh would like to clarify that asylum seekers, children of asylum seekers and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who meet our entry requirements, will be eligible to pay the equivalent of the Scottish domiciled tuition fee level whilst their application is under consideration by the Home Office, provided they have proof that an application for asylum in the UK has been made.”

Activists and student representatives who had previously corresponded with the International Office expressed surprise at the statement.  The initiative described has not been previously referenced by the International Office, and The Student could not immediately verify its existence online.  Queries for more detail had not been responded to at the time of press.

Petition authors said they would continue pressing ahead nonetheless.

Speaking to The Student, representatives of Equality Action Edinburgh Uni welcomed the statement but said that the University could still do more to support asylum seekers financially.

“[Changing the fee level] doesn’t necessarily mean that a university education is accessible”, fourth year Nannie Sköld told The Student.

“If you still need to pay £1,820 in tuition fees, but you get £36.95 per week, that’s still not accessible.  And in addition to that, [the statement] doesn’t mention anything about bursaries and living costs.  As an asylum seeker, if you are a resident in Glasgow and living costs aren’t covered in Edinburgh, that doesn’t enable you to study at Edinburgh University.”

She continued: “If […] the University is willing to take steps toward making education accessible, then surely they would want to ensure that that’s not just a tokenistic thing—that it’s actually possible—this should be their incentive as well.

“The University has a massive endowment fund, which means that obviously they would have the money”, she continued.

Third-year Nuri Syed Corser agreed, saying: “The number of people who would come is not going to be a huge number.”

Referring to the petition, he added: “I don’t think what we’re asking for is going to be controversial.  I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that there’s a lot of student opinion that thinks the University should be more accessible.”

Sköld and Syed Corser are planning to go to the International Officer Alan Mackay on Friday with their proposals. Vice President of Services for Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA), Urte Macikene, who signed the petition, will also be in attendance.

Image: Gavin Dewar

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The Student Newspaper 2016