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Campaign for equal access to education for asylum seekers

Monday 15-12-2014 - 12:40

Education is a vehicle for progress for the individual and for society. Denying access to education benefits no-one.  Nelson Mandela was right to say that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

This is why it is shocking that asylum seekers are denied access to higher education in Scotland, as they are not eligible for tuition fee or living support, or the right to work in order to support themselves. Furthermore, as they are not accepted as domestic students in the UK, if they want to attend university, they are charged full international fees, meaning they are effectively barred from universities.

Seeking asylum is a human right under the Refugee Convention of 1951. Asylum seekers come to this country and many others, for refuge. They leave their homes in fear of persecution for things that we would rightly be appalled at in the UK. Race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political party. They have skills and qualifications, but cannot fully integrate into society due to the barriers they face, particularly when it comes to university. Under the United Nations Human Rights Convention (UNHRC), Article 26, everyone has the right to education - so why are they denied these rights? 

Many asylum seekers spend years in limbo, waiting for their years for their asylum claim to be accepted. I am an example of the cruelty of this Westminster Government’s system, as I had to wait for eight years before I was approved to stay in the UK. That’s eight years of wondering who will come to the door or how long the place that you love will be your home, or whether you can make plans for the future. 
During that time, I attended school and I achieved Standard Grades and Highers, but when I finished school, there was no place that I could go. I wasn’t eligible for SAAS loans like my school friends were. I wasn’t allowed to work and I didn’t have the independent financial means required to fund a university career. 

It’s unfair that students who have the ability and qualifications to study at university are denied that chance because of financial circumstances. For over a year, I have campaigned for equal access to education for those seeking asylum. When you research the issue you will discover there is extreme inequality and a lot of talent lost, as a result of current immigration policy. Furthermore, immigration policy is complex area and you’ll often encounter confusing messages from authorities about eligibility – but don’t be put off. 

Strathclyde University Students’ Association has led the way by providing three fully-funded scholarships for study related costs and we hope that other institutions follow suit. You can hear more about the scheme and some tips on how to secure scholarships at your institution in the video below. 

It is unfortunate that we have to take such measures, as the scholarship is a way to treat the symptom, not the root cause of the problem which is UK immigration policy, and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

The current situation for asylum seekers undermines the widening access agenda and minimises the life chances of countless individuals. It also rejects the talent and potential asylum seekers bring to Scotland’s society and the rich contribution they can make. 

It is not too late to rectify this situation. We believe that the Scottish Government should enable access to SAAS funding for asylum seekers on an equal basis as domestic students and by doing so, enable the whole of our society to progress.

We also believe the Westminster Government should rethink its position by allowing asylum seekers the right to work. 

If you’d like to find more about the scholarship scheme, or join the campaign for equal access to education for asylum seekers, contact Roza at roza.salih@nus-scotland.org.uk

 

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