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A campaign which aims to implement fully funded places for asylum seekers and refugees at Lancaster University was launched earlier this month by a group of students, staff and members of the local community. The University’s strategic vision for 2020 is to attract high-quality students from diverse backgrounds and ensure robust admissions and fair access across all admissions procedures. Currently, the University does not provide any widespread extra provisions for asylum seekers or refugees.
Under current British law, asylum seekers (individuals who have applied for asylum and are waiting for a decision on their claim) are not allowed to work, are not eligible for student finance and are provided with an allowance of £37.75 per week. Furthermore, asylum seekers are classed as international students by the University. Refugees (individuals whose asylum claims have been accepted) are allowed to work, are eligible for student finance, and are also classed as a ‘home student.’
Feedback from the first public meeting held on the 14th of March suggested that more should be done by the campaign to advertise the lack of support currently being provided, as many students assume that provisions are already in place. Others accused the campaign of being fragmented, with great intentions but a lack of focus; however, those running the meeting argued that this is to be expected as the project is only in its beginning stages. The campaign’s reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the city council expressed an interest in backing it.
The campaign group argued that displacement is not a new problem but unfortunately a very common political occurrence, as living outside of a nation-state is accepted as the norm by millions of people. Studies have shown that the discontinuation of education for young people can lead to mental health problems including depression, anxiety and issues related to isolation.
In the meeting, the belief was stressed that education is a fundamental human right which we are both obliged to and should want to deliver. It was also stated that providing scholarships is an essential part of bridging the gap between what the University wants to deliver and what it is currently delivering. The project would also aim to work with the large group of mature students who have existing qualifications from their own nations and may be unaware of the support that is available to them.
The push to provide scholarships for refugees and asylum seekers began in 2015 through a student activism campaign enabled by the student union – however, fundraising for this was only established in 2018. Some funding has been provided by the University, who matched the initial £20,000 raised to start the campaign.
Decisions regarding granting scholarships to refugees or asylum seekers would ultimately be made by the Vice Chancellor, but the campaign aims to work towards setting up a working group and finding senior management staff to advocate for and openly support the campaign.