Universities must do more to help asylum seekers

We are currently in the midst of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. With more and more people fleeing wars and persecution in Syria and elsewhere, it has never been more important for western countries to step up and help those in need. As trailblazers of politics and innovation, universities must do their bit, especially those that pride themselves on social responsibility such as the University of Edinburgh.

Alan Mackay, Director of the International Office, has announced that the University will now consider asylum seekers as home students, meaning that they only have to pay £1,820 per year rather than the international fee of £14,000. This is a great step forward in recognising that asylum seekers are not in the same position at all as international students; far from choosing to study in Edinburgh, they are forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution and torture. Not being allowed to work and receiving just £36.95 per week, fees of £14,000 are entirely impossible for most asylum seekers. Those fleeing from conflict are already marginalised by the media, which will only get worse after the recent Paris attacks; by gaining access to higher education and becoming better integrated, asylum seekers’ image among the UK population will surely improve.

However, the formal announcement planned for early December must deliver more if it is to have a true effect. It is unclear whether asylum seekers would have access to SAAS, meaning that even with the reduced fees, studying here will remain inaccessible. Even £1,820 per year is next to impossible for someone with an income of £36.95 per week, whilst the housing of asylum seekers in Glasgow only exacerbates the problem in increasing the costs of attending classes here. In order to fully avoid excluding asylum seekers, the University must waive their fees and establish bursaries to cover living costs. If Edinburgh does not commit to both of these promises, it will only be paying lip service to the notion of helping asylum seekers. 

Our University could make a very real difference here. The stigma around refugees and asylum seekers is unacceptable; they flee from war and persecution from a fear even greater than ours for ISIS. As a reputable academic institution, the University of Edinburgh has the respect of many: media outlets, intellectuals and the general population.

In order for there to be a true impact on all asylum seekers of university age in the UK, the change in policy must be nationwide. If universities like Edinburgh start to make that change, it will help create momentum that will drive change on a larger scale, as others will see that allowing asylum seekers access to higher education is not only possible, but inclusive and desirable.

If the University were to fully commit to such a strong position, it would clearly help individual asylum seekers in Edinburgh. Furthermore, if the government, media and other educational establishments were to see the University of Edinburgh effecting this kind of change, it could help asylum seekers on an even larger scale: both practically and in terms of how they are perceived. 

Image credit: dun_deagh

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