Skip to main content

Universities of Sanctuary Conference 2021

The 2021 UoS conference took place between  15th -26th of November 2021

The programme was delivered as a series of online webinars taking place over the course of two weeks. Catch up on the recordings under each session below!


How do we ensure that Universities and the Higher Education sector are welcoming for people seeking sanctuary in the UK? How can the sector influence UK Government policy on asylum and immigration?

23 universities in the UK have been recognised as Universities of Sanctuary over the last few years for their commitment to creating a culture and a practice of welcome. Many more are working towards recognition.

Join us at the annual Universities of Sanctuary national conference to explore what universities are already doing, how this could be developed, and how they can become a vital part of making the UK a welcoming place for people seeking sanctuary.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch at [email protected]

  • To download and install Zoom visit:
  • To join a meeting, click on the Zoom link sent to your email after registering* for the conference above. 
  • All webinars will be using the same link, except the training taster sessions which are being organised and hosted by Scottish Refugee Council.

*Please ensure the name you register is the same name you join the Zoom meeting with. You can change your name on Zoom by hovering your mouse over your name in the ‘Participants’ list on the right side of the zoom window and clicking on ‘rename’. 


We would also strongly encourage you to have your video on for security reasons and to feel part of the community. Please note the conference sessions will be recorded to save the presentations as future resource. If you do not want to be recorded, you can turn off your camera during the meeting or change your name. 


As with any publicly available Zoom session, certain precautions will be made to ensure the security and privacy of attendees. While there have been disruptions in sessions, these have been relatively rare. It’s important to let you know that we have put precautionary security measures in place and are asking for your help to minimise the risk of interference:

  • We will be disabling some of the features that Zoom has – such as screen sharing for non-hosts, annotations, or file sharing.
  • All participants will be asked to have their video on, real name at the bottom of the screen and will be automatically muted. If you do not use your real name you may be removed from the session by the moderator.
  • We ask all participants to respect the privacy of other participants and not to share personal details of what is discussed with anyone outside of the conference or on social media.
  • There will be at least one moderator/host in each session, in addition to the presenter(s). Their job will be to oversee security, but also to facilitate Q&A in the session.

The above measures will hopefully allow for the smooth running of the webinars. In the event that there is a disruption, it will be swiftly dealt with by the moderator.

Welcome Presentation 

‘Creating and Expanding a Culture of Welcome’ 

Time: 4pm – 5pm

Access and participation in education and opportunities for sanctuary seekers has always been an area of significant interest and work for many universities, this year especially, the role of universities in welcoming and fostering safe environments has been more important than ever. Universities are paramount in creating welcoming communities and practices within and beyond their campuses.  Four representatives and champions for Sanctuary work at their universities and communities will speak about their activity in the past year, and offer a perspective on how they have been expanding a culture of welcome, but also challenges and lessons learnt along the way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions if you would like to connect after the event. 


Dr Linda Morrice 

Linda is a Reader in Education and Migration at the University of Sussex.

Gulwali Passarlay

Gulwali BA (Hon) MPA , Author of best-selling book ‘The Lightless Sky’, award winning  Activist and Campaigner, Co-Funder of My Bright Kite  and member of Afghan Refugee Expert Network in Europe (ARENE).

Rachel Sandison

Vice Principal, External Relations at the University of Glasgow. The University’s Refugee & Asylum Seeker Champion.

Dr Mike Chick

Senior lecturer TESOL / Refugee Champion, University of South Wales

All slides and the recording will be uploaded to the ‘Resources’ section under ‘Event recordings’.

1. Scottish Refugee Council: Training for HE Practitioners – a Taster Session for staff

Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) have partnered with Universities of Sanctuary (UoS) and Student Action for Refugees (STAR) to produce training. The suite of specialist training courses, created in partnership with Scottish Refugee Council, is designed to support Higher Education Institutions working towards the Universities of Sanctuary Award.

The online courses will help institutions that are inspired to go for the Universities of Sanctuary Award to develop a culture of welcome, shared learning and equal access to education.

Scottish Refugee Council - Glasgow Connected Arts Network

Taster sessions

Four free taster sessions will be held during the Universities of Sanctuary Conference. Join us for an hour in this session to get a flavour of what’s on offer. 

Places are limited. If you would like to attend one of these free taster sessions. 

Organised by Martha Harding and Shohana Shabnam

Time: 2pm

Register here

Zoom link and details will be sent out to all registered participants.

Sanctuary Scholarships – How HE institutions can foster inclusivity

Watch the recording here

Kimberly Garande, We Belong Outreach Officer

        Time: 10am-12pm

This workshop is an opportunity to reflect on the success of sanctuary scholarships and reflect on the development of solutions to issues concerning inclusivity within offers. There will be emphasis on different immigration statuses, highlighting the differences in complex eligibility criteria and looking into what universities can do to foster a collective culture of inclusivity.

There will be a chance for universities to reflect on their practice beyond being education providers to better understand the needs of all students in need of support by the Universities of Sanctuary network and underpin the areas in need of urgent development.

What will be included:

    • The issue with scholarships scarcity and need for urgent change.
    • A breakdown of different immigration status & restrictive terminology in scholarship offers – this will focus on Limited Leave to Remain.
    • What We Belong has done as a partner of Universities of Sanctuary.
    • Ways universities can support We Belong’s work including schools & colleges.
    • Personal statement support information for prospective students – improving student assistance in application stage.
    • We Belong’s offer of in depth training packages to university widening participation teams.

Zoom link and details will be sent out to all registered participants. 

Refugee Women’s Linguistic Identity and Social integration in Creative Writing: a research project exploring refugee women’s linguistic identity and social integration in the UK within creative writing groups

Watch the recording here

Sara Bdeir, second year PhD candidate in Education at Nottingham Trent University.

          Time: 3.00 – 3:30pm

This session explores the role of the linguistic identities of refugee women in their social integration within the context of creative writing groups.

Following a narrative approach to inquiry, refugees’ stories collected through interviews and writing sessions will form the raw data of the research.

The research finding might encourage refugees to join art groups, and motivate workshop leaders to develop their sources and understanding of refugees’ linguistic identities and social integration.


1. Scottish Refugee Council: Training for HE Practitioners – a Taster (2nd Session) 

Scottish Refugee Council - Glasgow Connected Arts Network

Time: 10.00 – 11.00 am

A zoom link will be sent from SRC after registration. 



2. “It’s like rubbing salt on the wound”: the impacts of covid-19 and lockdown on asylum seekers and refugees in the UK

Watch the recording here

Newcastle University – Logos Download

Peter Hopkins, Robin Finlay and Matthew Benwell, Newcastle University

          Time: 11.00am – 12.00pm

This session explores the findings of a recently published report about the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in the context of covid-19 and lockdown in the UK.

This research draws upon a nationwide survey of organisations who provide services for refugees and asylum seekers, and interviews with service provides and refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow and Newcastle Gateshead. For asylum seekers and refugees, the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis overlap with many other challenges and inequalities that pre-dated the pandemic.

These pre-existing hardships and the challenges presented by the pandemic, combined to leave many highly vulnerable in this time of crisis. We reflect upon the response of the sector to the pandemic and consider the many challenges negotiated by refugees and asylum seekers including: closure of public spaces and increasing social isolation and loneliness; digital exclusion; increased caring responsibilities; housing and accommodation; the asylum process; money and employment; and, health and wellbeing

This research was completed by Professor Peter Hopkins, a Professor of Social Geography, Matthew Benwell, a Senior Lecturer and, Robin Finlay, a Research Associate, all based in Geography at Newcastle University.

3. “Lift the Ban” – students campaigning for the right to work

Time: 3.00 – 4.00pm

Sam Hoskyns and Sinead Foley, students at the University of Newcastle

A group of students from Newcastle University have been working to support the Lift the Ban campaign. They have spent the last year gathering support from local and national institutions, including Newcastle University and the British Medical Association. They will be discussing the importance of the campaign, including an overview of the current situation and why changing the law is so important by an expert from experience.  After this, they will cover how our group began working on the campaign, their personal experiences and how other student groups can support this campaign and others of its kind. 

1. Information session – Training for staff supporting students seeking sanctuary

Information presentation from We Belong, Scottish Refugee Council, and Refugee Education UK about the training they provide to practitioners to understand the barriers to university for sanctuary students and equips them with the skills and confidence to move forward. This session will highlight the main differences between each providers’ training and how you can select the most appropriate training for your context.

Time: 10.00 – 11.00 am

Katie Barringer, Head of Educational Progression at Refugee Education UK (REUK) 

Martha Harding, Martha Harding, Training Officer at Scottish Refugee Council.

Kimberly Garande We Belong’s Outreach Officer

2. Roundtable Discussion: Education to Employment Pathways Among Forced Migrants – Addressing the Online and Distance-Learning Gap

File:Open University logo.png - Wikimedia Commons

Time: 1.00 – 2.30pm

Registration link: Webinar (

This session by the Open University attempts to explore the different needs, challenges, and tensions between aspirations related to education and employment among forced migrants in the UK, from a multitude of perspectives including the legal, social, economic, and institutional angles. The session will specifically explore the field of online or distance learning, and skills education (jobs and apprentice programmes), that can potentially partially alleviate and address these challenges and tensions.

Speakers (hosts): Lidia Dancu, Dr Aditya Ray, Fidele Mutwarasibo (Open University)

Panel members: Mebrak Ghebreweldi (Diversity Resource International); Dr Neil Graffin (Law School, Open University); Dr Helen Baxter (University of Leicester); Maggie Lennon (Bridges Programme Glasgow); Simon Tindall (Skills and Innovation, Open University)

3. Scottish Refugee Council: Training for HE Practitioners – a Taster Session

  Registration link

  Time:  2- 3pm

Zoom links and details will be sent out to all registered participants.

1. Universities of Sanctuary model in Australia! Welcoming Universities – an Australian context

Time 9.00 – 10.00am (UK Time) / 7pm Brisbane, 8pm Melbourne/Sydney. 

Watch the recording here

About the session:

Numerous Australian Universities are at the leading edge of research, debate and thought leadership in areas such as population; migration; social cohesion; economic participation; diversity; and, inclusion. ‘Welcoming Universities’ is an initiative that will support HEIs to create a sense of belonging for all, and build on the success and learnings of Welcoming Australia

Join this session to hear about the work of La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne in advancing diversity and inclusion, and the future of this initiative in Australia.

St Mary's University, Twickenham - Wikipedia

2. St Mary’s University: Horizons Summer School for Survivors of Trauma – University’s Bakhita Centre for Research 

Time: 12.00 – 2.00pm

The Horizons Summer School is a pilot project developed by St Mary’s Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse.

The Horizons Summer School was successfully delivered over a six-week period in the Summer of 2021. Including both academic and enriching activities the Horizons Summer School has demonstrated that a flexible and innovative approach to educational provision positively impacts the lives of survivors, improves their confidence, and creates new spaces for personal growth and learning.  

Join this presentation to hear about the latest research from Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation, and Abuse, latest research on the hostile environment & the Centre’s successful delivery of a Summer School for survivors of trauma.


Dr Carole Murphy 

  • The Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse 
  • Her 2018 Research Report identifying gaps in the long-term support for survivors specifically in employment and education  
  • Lack of educational options during the summer months 
  • Her vision of addressing the lack of education provisions for survivors in a university setting 
  • Partnerships between HE institutions and the Voluntary Sector

Diem-Tu Tran 

  • Hostile Environment – policies which have made difficult for migrants to live in the UK 
  • The consequences of these policies on specific vulnerable groups such as survivors of slavery and human trafficking

Vanna Derosas 

  • Delivery of the HSS, barriers and challenges of working within a Higher Education Institution 
  • The positives of working within a HE institution 
  • Choice of curriculum 
  • Some information about the students and why this cohort
  • What can be done better looking ahead

Melanie Doucakis

  • The role of the Course Navigator – innovative and important 
  • What this has brought to the HSS
  • Observations on how to develop this role in future summer schools  
  • Navigating a new culture and Life Skills – developing a course according to students’ requirements and needs 

Jobs with REFUAID | CharityJob

Refuaid: Facilitating Access to Education and Employment through English Language Support

   Watch the recording here

Mohib heads up RefuAid’s Language: A Gateway programme, which in the past year has supported 476 RefuAid clients into language classes with partner schools and volunteer English language tutors all over the UK. The programme provides RefuAid clients with crucial access to the formal tuition needed to pass OET & IELTS exams, which are required to access university degrees, as well as re-qualify in a host of skilled professions.

RefuAid is an organisation that partner with 80 private English language schools in order to provide intensive language tuition and qualifications to refugees and asylum seekers requiring accreditation for either higher education or employment. Over 500 individuals have already graduated from the programme with the qualification they need. 

Mohib Ullah will speak about Refuaid’s work with universities, students and other organisations to support refugees with access to HE, prequalification and employment, as well as their exciting future projects. 

Running successful Refugee Week/Refugee Festival Scotland events

Watch the recording here

People sit at a long table working clay with their hands

Time: 2.00-3.00pm

Interested in knowing more about Refugee Week and Refugee Festival Scotland, and how your university community can get involved in 2022?

Refugee Festival Scotland team, STAR Network Manager and University of Edinburgh Global Community Coordinator have partnered to offer a glimpse behind the scenes of running success festival events. We will introduce the festival, themes and dates of the campaign in 2022. You will hear from STAR how HR professionals can support students to mark the week. We will also present the examples of successful events, share lessons learned and discuss ideas for online/hybrid events.

It’s your chance to meet and collaborate with others from around the UK!

1. Scottish Refugee Council: Training for HE Practitioners – a Taster Session

Registration link

Time: 10.00 – 11.00 am

2. Support for Students Seeking Sanctuary – A Session for HE Staff and Practitioners

Watch the recording here

Time: 11.00am  – 12.00pm

File:Birkbeck, University of London.png - Wikipedia             File:Sheffield Hallam University logo.svg - Wikimedia Commons




Do you work in a department or team that supports students with sanctuary seeking backgrounds ? Would you like to share your experiences, ask questions or discuss challenges you come across? Is your department interested in creating a post for a point of contact to directly support students on sanctuary scholarships and beyond?

Join this session to hear from two points of contact and discuss:

      • Creating a sense of community for sanctuary students
      • Academic and pastoral mentoring
      • Involvement of sanctuary students at every stage of the journey
      • Hardship funding and financial support, applying for grants, linking students with internal and external support.
      • Advocacy work
      • Legal advice and signposting
      • Engaging with University of Sanctuary
        working groups.

Speakers: Helen Paskins, International Experience Team at Sheffield Hallam University and Isabelle Habib, Senior Access Officer at Birkbeck, University of London

3. Student Loans Company – An Overview for universities about Eligibility and Higher Education Loans, Appeals Processes and Current Work to support Students Seeking Sanctuary

Watch the recording here

Time: 2.00-3.00pm

An Overview for universities about Eligibility and Higher Education Loans, Appeals Processes and current Work to support Students Seeking Sanctuary. Join this information session to learn more about the work of the Student Loans Company and the issues affecting students with temporary immigration backgrounds. There will also be time for discussion and questions. 

Charmaine Valente, Funding Information Partners Account Manager, Student Loans Company. 

Whilst working for the Student Loans Company, who are always assessing their systems to provide a seamless application process, Charmaine has been supported with the aid of the Stand Alone Charity to enhance the experience of students who have become estranged from their families. Charmaine introduced an estrangement form to support practitioners to benefit these students by accessing full funding from the Student Loans Company. In addition, Charmaine facilitated the introduction of specialist advisers within the Independent Team, which has enabled many students, who can now receive funding to achieve their educational dreams.

Recently, Charmaine has worked with Local Authorities and the DfE to allow Care Leavers, who are the responsibilities of the Local Authority but live with parents, to access Care Leaver funding, which has opened up Higher Education for more than 400 students per year.

University of Dundee – Logos Download



4. University of Dundee Scholarships – A  model for International Humanitarian Scholarships 

Time: 4.00 -5.00pm

In this session, the University of Dundee will talk about their unique Humanitarian Scholarships model. Join to hear about how they have made scholarships available for Refugees outside the UK in addition to CARA programmes and scholarships for sanctuary seekers in the UK. 

Speakers: Sharon Sweeney, Student Funding Officer and Allanah Watson, Admissions Projects Officer

Zoom link and details will be sent out to all registered participants.

    1. Council for At-Risk Academics

Time: 11.00am -12.00pm

Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) | Cumberland Lodge

The Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) has been working since 1933 as a rescue mission for academics in immediate danger, and also runs regionally-based programmes to assist academics who have been forced into exile in the region around their home country or who are trying to work on, despite many risks and hardships. In this session, Cara’s Director will outline their current work and the challenges they face, and Mr Haidari will talk about his own experiences in Higher Education in Afghanistan over nearly ten years, and the recent events which forced him and his family into exile.


Stephen Wordsworth, Executive Director, Cara

Eraj Haidari, Visiting Researcher at City, University of London, formerly Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Balkh University, Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

2. Why is community engagement with BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) people important in Higher Education?

12 – 1pm

Speaker: Alice Mpofu-Coles and the Student Community Champions at the University of Reading.

3. Setting up Sanctuary Scholarships 

Time: 1.00 – 2.00 pm

Are you interested in setting up a Sanctuary Scholarship at your institution, but unsure where to start? hear from two universities about how they have set up their scholarship model and their experience so far.

Sanctuary Scholarships are gateways to university for prospective students from refugee and migrant backgrounds who would otherwise be locked out of higher education due to their immigration status. In the UK, people who are seeking asylum or have limited leave to remain are usually unable to access student finance and are charged international fees. Others who have already overcome significant barriers to continuing their education often need additional financial support to take up their place. 

University of St Andrews - Scotland's first university, founded 1413

Harriet Sheridan, Partnerships Officer at University of St Andrews

Raphaëla Armbruster, Admissions and Access to Higher Education

File:University College London logo.svg - Wikipedia



4. RefugEAP soft launch: English for Academic Purposes Programme for Refugee-Background Students

New UoL logo — University of LeicesterHome | Password | English Language Testing Limited       Copy of screen share.png

University of Leicester, Password English, and Screen Share

Time: 2.00-3.30pm

This talk will outline a new scheme entitled RefugEAP, which is being set up by the University of Leicester to create opportunities for refugee-background students from across the UK to access both formal and non-formal English for Academic Purposes (EAP) provision to aid them in their efforts to access a UK university. It will start by laying out the need for this scheme, and the difficulties commonly faced by these students in accessing EAP. It will then set out the structure of the scheme, which consists of two strands:  

    1. Providing non-formal classes and learning opportunities for refugee-background students 

    2. Working to improve formal opportunities for refugee-background students to access formal EAP provision across the UK HE sector 

The session will close with an opportunity for participants to ask questions, and participants who may be interested in getting involved will be given information about how they might do so.