Written by Ben Hudson (PhD Candidate (Law)), August 2016
In June 2016, the University of Bristol launched the Sanctuary Scholarship Scheme. This scheme, the first of its kind at the university, extends educational opportunities to people from refugee and asylum seeking communities, by offering scholarships to cover the costs associated with higher education and providing tailored support for students during their studies at Bristol. The scheme aims to remove procedural as well as financial barriers that applicants may have previously faced in accessing higher education. Underpinning the scheme is the belief that education should be open to all, as inspired by the Helena Kennedy Foundation Article 26 project and the work of Student Action for Refugees (STAR).
The scheme aims to be as inclusive as possible – it is open to all nationalities, all related migratory statuses, all levels of qualification (i.e. undergraduate, Master’s and PhD), all but four university courses, and is available for both full-time and part-time study (subject to specific course requirements). Applicants must be based in the UK at the time of their application but there is no regional restriction within the UK.
Higher education in the UK is expensive, both in terms of tuition and living costs. As such, the scheme provides substantial financial support to all Sanctuary Scholars – for those students who cannot access student finance due to their migratory status (namely those who are awaiting a decision on their asylum application), a full tuition fee waiver for their chosen course is provided, along with a scholarship of £14,296 per year. In this first year, the university received over 130 applications for the scholarship, from which we were able to make a total of 12 offers.
Securing the approval of the university and getting the scheme off the ground was an intensive, albeit relatively rapid, process. The initial lobbying was undertaken by a group of academics and research students, the Migration Research Group, of which I am a member. We submitted a letter direct to the Vice-Chancellor and the Communications and Marketing Division at the university, requesting that a commitment be made to help those who have been forcibly displaced to the UK and who face seemingly insurmountable barriers in continuing their education. Our proposal was based on in-depth research into schemes ran by other universities, especially those Bristol considers to be its competitors. Crucial at this point was speaking to as many people as possible across the university and Bristol Students’ Union, including students, staff, professional services, and middle and senior management, in an attempt to really get people talking and believing in the possibility of establishing such a scheme.
After much lobbying, the Vice-Chancellor made a personal commitment, stated publicly online, to establish the Sanctuary Scholarship Scheme. However, securing this commitment, as well as the associated funding, was only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum and being prepared to be in it for the long haul was key to ensuring the scheme gained traction and really got off the ground. In this respect, collaboration between different groups at the university was absolutely essential. Specifically, finding the right people within key university departments (e.g. admissions, marketing, student funding, student services, and widening participation), who were each fully vested in developing such a scheme, was crucial, as many of these individuals were undertaking much of this work on top of their usual workload. The process was also formalised quite early on, in the form of a working group, so as to ensure regular steps forward were taken, and to help professionalise the scheme and establish direct, official reporting channels to senior decision-makers.
At Bristol, timing was also on our side, with a new Vice-Chancellor and a new University Strategy having recently been launched. Indeed, connecting the scheme directly to the university’s objectives, namely diversity and inclusivity, has meant we have been able to demonstrate how the scheme also helps the university to achieve its own strategic aims.
While those of us involved in the scheme are immensely proud of what has been achieved so far, and are very much looking forward to welcoming our first cohort of Sanctuary Scholars to Bristol this September, much work still needs to be done to secure funding for the scheme in future years. No doubt this will involve continued discussions and negotiations with key decision-makers, and further work to really embed the scheme within the permanent scholarship structure at Bristol.
For further information on the University of Bristol Sanctuary Scholarship, please see the scholarship webpages: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/fees-funding/awards/sanctuary-scholarship/.
To further discuss the experience of setting up the University of Bristol Sanctuary Scholarship, please contact current Bristol student, Ben Hudson, at [email protected].