Skip to main content

This page is designed to provide inspiration for activities universities can undertake in their journey to becoming a University of Sanctuary. The case studies are divided into the three main principles of the Sanctuary movement, ‘Learn’, ‘Embed’ and ‘Share’. 

Click on a case study title to read more about it.


The University of East Anglia (UEA) was recognised as a University of Sanctuary in 2018 and as part of their commitment to developing their practice, a steering group was created. The group now boasts over 40 active members who are dedicated to upholding the Sanctuary vision at UEA. Demonstrating their active engagement with University of Sanctuary’s ‘learn’ principle, the steering group organised a series of public lectures  in order to engage students and the local community on debates surrounding refugees and asylum seekers. The series has included talks on a number of subjects; Madeleine Arnot kicked off the lecture series with a fascinating talk entitled ‘Empowering the Newly Arrived Child Within Mainstream Schools: The Challenges of Diversity, Communication and Social Morality’, whilst Dr Mark Doidge of the University of Brighton delivered a lecture on the role of sport to the integration of refugees.The most recent talk explored ‘The impact on migrant women of NHS charging for maternity care’ presented by Rayah Feldman, Senior Policy and Reseach Officer at Maternity Action.

UEA’s public lecture series demonstrates an effective approach to engage the local community and student body on issues facing refugees and asylum seekers and create a dialogue surrounding these debates. Education is a fundamental tool for creating a more welcoming and understanding environment for all newcomers to a community. 

Future lectures and information can be found on UEA’s website or at the UEA University of Sanctuary twitter page (@UeaSanctuary

The University of Bradford became a University of Sanctuary in 2018 and has since demonstrated its dedication to the initiative in a number of ways. One example of how the university continues to commit to the ‘learn’ principle is through a training module that is offered to staff. The training is designed to help develop insights into the lives of refugee and asylum seeker students. The course seeks to increase understanding of the issues that refugee students face, improve cultural competence and bring awareness to the City of Sanctuary initiative. Staff will be able to understand potential reasons for migration, what this journey might involve as well as the asylum process once asylum seekers reach the UK. The module also teaches staff the importance of language in the discourse surrounding migration and asylum. This presents a fantastic opportunity for staff to build on their knowledge of what it means to be a refugee and how this can be used to create a welcoming environment on campus and beyond. Learning and teaching are essential tools which can be used to help people reflect on how they might help and better focus efforts to achieve the best results.  

More information on the course and its resources can be found at Bradford’s University of Sanctuary website 

In 2016/17 the University of Winchester established an internal Forced Migrants’ Network which meets regularly. The group comprises academic and support staff from across the University who are involved in activities relating to asylum-seekers and refugees. Activities include research, knowledge exchange, teaching, outreach, and support for displaced students. The purpose is to share information, establish inter-disciplinary collaboration and link academics and practitioners. Outcomes have already included an international conference held at the University in September 2018 – called ‘Boundary Crossing: an international, interdisciplinary conference on refugees and social justice’ – and the achievement of a University of Sanctuary Award in 2018.  

The network has expanded to include representation from the Wessex Global Health Network Refugee Interest Group, which brings together medical practitioners who have a particular interest in the needs, and access to services, of refugees. They are exploring effective ways in which, during 2019, the University can actively collaborate with the group to create shared resources, host multi-agency meetings and make the pool of knowledge and expertise more widely available. 

The University of Warwick became a University of Sanctuary in 2017. The working group established to drive the programme, seeking to embed it into the university, chose a course of action aimed at better understanding the University of Sanctuary Scholars’ personal experiences. A graduate trainee at the university lead a research project to map the current process all Sanctuary Scholars follow from admission, through arrival and in their studies at Warwick.  From these insights, the working group learned much and pro-actively took on board the recommendations. Read more about these recommendations and their result here

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, higher education institutions are undergoing a period of financial uncertainty and rapid change to their teaching styles and learning approaches. However, it is also an opportunity for universities to provide greater inclusion and an accessible sector which enables those with sanctuary seeking backgrounds to feel engaged and welcomed. Although each university is different in the way they create a culture of welcome, learning from sanctuary students, putting their voices at the centre of discussions, as well as having knowledge about the barriers they face to access and seek help throughout their studies is key to tackling these challenges.

A great example of research work in this area has been completed at the University of Newcastle about the needs of students and staff from sanctuary backgrounds. You can view the full report here. 


Dublin College University (DCU) announced on World Refugee Day (20th June 2018)  that it would be offering 30 scholarships for refugees and asylum seekers to complete online study on the FutureLearn platform. The initiative offers refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland the opportunity to take part in a wide range of courses from Irish 101, to English for Academic Study, to courses on Preparing for University and certificates upon completion. The joint action between DCU and FutureLearn opens the door to higher education for refugees and asylum seekers who might not be able to attend universities directly, who can now participate remotely. The joint venture demonstrates a key way in which the university is striving to create a long-lasting, change for the better in their community and therefore embedding the culture of welcome in their university and beyond.  

More information on this initiative, courses offered and eligibility can be found on the Dublin City University website 

Universities are often lucky enough to enjoy large grounds and remain some of the best green spaces in our communities. The University of York St. John harnessed this asset by designating an area of land as an allotment for people seeking sanctuary, enabling them to quite literally embed their commitment to welcome into their campus.  

The spaces are ordinarily reserved for staff of the university, but offering one plot for others who might benefit is just one of the many ways they have developed a culture of welcome. Research shows that community growing can impact positively on physical and mental wellbeing. For more information on this see the Gardens of Sanctuary resource pack.  

Not only is horticulture an area of knowledge where people from different cultures can learn from each other, it also encourages regular exercise and healthier eating patterns. In addition, as most people are forbidden from working while their asylum claim is processed, and many people suffer health issues which make it hard for them to access work, an allotment can provide a meaningful activity for people and thus help with their mental wellbeing.  

Mental stress and social isolation are often big issues for people seeking asylum. Gardening can be very therapeutic and provides a chance to meet new people, or get some peace and quiet.  

In addition, grounds staff at the University have agreed to provide job-shadowing opportunities with the local refugee support organisation which will also help people to learn new skills and improve job prospects.  

As well as financial barriers, understanding the British education system can often be a daunting task for refugees and asylum seekers who oftentimes come from countries with different educational structures and means of qualification. Accessing higher education can be an important tool to build confidence and open doors to exciting opportunities for many people, which is why the University College London (UCL)  has developed a programme run by its Institute of Eduction (IOE) department which offers support to London-based refugees and asylum seekers looking to enrol in higher education or to participate in teacher training (PGCE) programmes.  

The Reconnect to Education: Preparation for Higher Education initiative provides refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to advance their knowledge and understanding of how academic texts are developed in higher education and to better understand contemporary British culture and build the ‘academic communicative’ confidence of refugees and asylum seekers to make links between their own culture and community groups. Reconnect to Education aims to develop potential students’ knowledge and understanding of the British Educational System through providing an introduction to various aspects of higher education, including critical reading and academic writing, use of virtual learning environments, intercultural learning and understanding and more broadly, the programme offers an introduction to ‘Education in Britain’. The module runs over 10 weeks and can be completed in the autumn, spring and summer terms and the programme will cover fees and travel costs and contribute towards learning materials.  

While those granted refugee status have the possibility to access to UK student loans, finance can often present a barrier to those wishing to go to university. In addition, asylum seekers are required to pay international student fees, which are extremely high and often inaccessible to most, which is why scholarships and bursaries can  The University of Exeter is currently working towards becoming a University of Sanctuary, but has offered sanctuary scholarships since 2017. Each year, the university offers three scholarships which include a full tuition fee waiver and the provision of living costs to the sum of £9,500 per year of study and up to £14,500 per year of study for PhD students. The award is open to both asylum seekers and refugees and was designed to closely follow the Article 26 Guiding Principles. Demonstrating a true embedding of the initiative, the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group has committed to provide support for the scholarships indefinitely, with the intention of them being financed by donors in the future. Currently, there are six students on sanctuary scholarships at undergraduate and postgraduate research level. One sanctuary scholarship recipient remarked:  

‘The Sanctuary Scholarship removed the obstacle of accessing education as a refugee, but in the process this allowed me to have a roof over my head in a warm room I can call my own for the first time on this continent. It also paved the way for me to focus on the things that matter the most and on a personal level, such as social integration and building a network. This scholarship allowed me to move on after the atrocities I have faced in my home country and abroad since 2011.’ 

Steering groups can be a fantastic way to ensure that the sanctuary commitment is embedded across the university. For example, the University of Leicester has a steering group made up of over 20 people from a range of academic and professional service departments across the university, as well as from City of Sanctuary, the Student’s Union and a current asylum seeker. Responsibilities of the group are detailed on their website which follow the ‘learn’, ’embed’ and ‘share’ principles. Commitment to the Sanctuary vision means the group carries out a range of activities, including organising events to promote understanding of the refugee crisis, ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers have access to appropriate university facilities and services, and to publicise the university’s involvement with supporting refugees and asylum seekers.  

The University of East Anglia (UEA), awarded a University of Sanctuary in 2018 has also formed a steering group which now has over 40 members from across the university. The group organised a fascinating lecture series surrounding a range of issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers, including talks from experts by expertise. On the one year anniversary of UEA’s receiving their University of Sanctuary award, the steering group hosted a hugely successful evening of celebration which promoted the Lift the Ban campaign on campus and led to the creation of the university’s first Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group. UEA has also employed a  Sanctuary Liaison Officer dedicated to strengthen the exceptional work being done for sanctuary seekers between the university and local partners.  

In 2015, the Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy at Cardiff Met began to offer the Cambridge CELTA Course, an initial teacher training qualification for teachers of English, to speakers of other languages. In order to engage with the English language learning communities, which are more highly concentrated around the city centre, it was important to identify what the main barriers of access to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes were. Researchers and practitioners who work in ESOL in the UK are acutely aware that one of the biggest barriers is the lack of childcare to support learners, primarily women, in attending free-of-charge English classes. But, since the School also offers BA courses in Early Childhood Studies with Early Years Practitioner Status (EYPS), where, aside from studying theoretical and policy-based knowledge, practical work experience is required, it seemed logical to link these two together. 

As a result, the university-based crèche, ‘Minimets’, was opened in September 2018. Thus far, three children are attending the crèche whilst their mothers, two of whom hold refugee status, are studying English. The places in the crèche are specifically ring-fenced in order to support the attendees at the English classes and it is a situation where everybody wins: the learners, some of whom are already considering studying MA courses at the University; the trainee teachers on the CELTA courses, who are gaining their practical teaching experience; the students, who are working towards the EYPS; and the staff, who are facilitating and assessing the students’ development. Furthermore, when the (by then qualified) teachers reach the 3rd year, they are asked to teach assessed IELTS classes on behalf of the Widening Access programme in a high BME concentration area of Cardiff. Not only is this a great experience of teaching academic exam English for third year students, but last year these classes helped five people from the refugee community to join their chosen courses at Cardiff Met. 

The University of Leicester’s English Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) has been working in partnership with the Leicester City of Sanctuary group to run free English classes for asylum seekers and refugees. The classes are run by volunteers and are open to all levels of English, with a wide range of lessons and groups available including reading circles and full time academic English classes. The ELTU typically provides booster courses for students from overseas in order to bring their written and spoken English language up to requirements; but since 2015, the unit has taken up a role in community engagement and corporate social responsibility.

Philip Horspool, the Director of ELTU said:

“Language is one of the many challenges facing those who leave their country. Here at the ELTU we have the will and expertise to help those for whom English is not their first language. Leicester has for a long time been a city that welcomes refugees, and with the current situation in Europe, is likely to welcome increased numbers in the coming months and years. I believe that helping those in the local community who need support is something that universities ought to do, and I’m delighted that in a small way we can offer our expertise and facilities.”

The classes, alongside the other fantastic work the University of Leicester and ELTU are doing, demonstrates an embedded commitment to being a University of Sanctuary. 


Awarded in 2017, The University of Warwick demonstrates an effective example of the ‘share’ principle through its website. The site offers a clear overview of the University of Sanctuary vision and provides examples of how the university itself is working towards achieving this vision. The University of Warwick illustrates their commitment to creating a welcoming environment on campus and beyond by working with the Coventry City of Sanctuary group and extending an invitation for involvement in the initiative. Alongside this, the university has listed ways in which staff, students and the wider community can get involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers and supplied a wide range of useful resources for these groups and other universities looking to take part. Information on scholarships for undergrad and postgrad available to refugees and asylum seekers. Details of these scholarships can be found here 

A Professor of Writing for Children at the University of Winchester published an illustrated book and web-based resource entitled ‘The Boat’ in order to raise awareness and understanding of refugees among schoolchildren. This is being widely rolled out, with plans to engage schools in a competition to add their own endings to the story. The launch event raised £600 for the Rural Refugee Network. The resources pack for this can be found here.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) was recognised as a University of Sanctuary in 2018 and as part of their commitment to developing their practice, they have set up a steering group to help ensure that they’re fulfilling their pledge as a place of sanctuary. Interest in the group has been extraordinary, and it now boasts 42 members who regularly attend meetings to discuss how UEA can continue to ensure it is a welcoming and hospitable environment. In January of 2019, the UEA group hosted an evening of celebrations to commemorate one year since they were awarded official University of Sanctuary status.  The event brought together people from the university and beyond  to celebrate the University of Sanctuary initiative. The evening involved a range of  festivities and activities including a “Balloon” debate, a debate-cum-theatre performance which tackled the question ‘Borders: Are Controls Necessary?’. Participants in the debate came from across faculties and the student body, generating lively audience participation and discussion. As well as this performance, the anniversary event also lead to the formation of the university’s first Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group and promoted the Lift the Ban campaign on campus. The evening demonstrates the ways in which a university’s can successfully and creatively engage students, staff and local communities on refugee and asylum seeker issues, as well as sharing experiences, campaigns and details on how to get involved.  

More can be found out about UEA’s Sanctuary group on their website, or follow them on Twitter and Instagram   

Whether it’s the campus newspaper or the local radio, getting coverage of your initiatives and events can be tricky. The University of Leicester Sanctuary group has succeeded in gaining the attention of readers through their proactive social media presence, and with a little sparkle from a famous alumni… Sir David Attenborough highlighted the importance of the University’s status as a University of Sanctuary when he visited in November 2018:  

‘it is not just money that supports this university, this university as the city itself, is notable for its general humanity and support of the community in which it is placed… I believe it will continue, because you have now become a University of Sanctuary’

His address, in honour of the unveiling of the Centenary Square dedication plaque, tapped in to local sentiments of pride and compassion and will no doubt encourage solidarity with the group’s aims. The group’s Facebook page shares news, events and short films, and provides a snapshot of the many things going on at the University to raise awareness and foster a culture of welcome. 

Campaigning is an effective way for universities to share information and resources whilst practically working towards creating a more hospitable and welcoming environment for refugees and asylum seekers. The student body can be a powerful tool for creating traction and drawing attention to campaigns, and the creation of a Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group can help focus efforts on refugee issues and mobilise support across the university. STAR is a UK-wide charity made up of over 27,000 students, from 46 groups at universities welcoming refugees to the country. The national STAR team coordinates activities across the network, organising and promoting campaigns alongside students. In 2018, the organisation focused on the Families Together Campaign, a campaign focused on reuniting refugee families which have been separated by war and kept apart by rules around family reunions. Alongside Oxfam, Amnesty International UK, Refugee Council and the UNHCR, STAR groups across the UK organised events, rallies and demonstrations to show support of the Families Together drive in order to influence Parliament support on the matter. For example, a group from New York University London decorated cardboard letters to spell ‘FAMILY’ and took pictures of people holding these up, which they then put up as a collage outside Parliament in order to demonstrate the huge support for the #FamiliesTogether bill. As well as this, STAR groups from across the country collected letters in support of the campaign for MPs which they delivered in person to ask that their representatives attended the debate in Westminster. 

The collective action taken by STAR alongside other organisations lead to the backing of the Refugee Family Reunion Bill by MPs in Parliament – with MPs acknowledging that the views and efforts of students had been crucial to influencing the outcome of the debate. The Families Together Campaign illustrates how student activism can play a pivotal role in influencing politics and culture, making the student body an essential player for universities looking to engage with the Sanctuary principles.  

The University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Dr Becky Taylor from the School of History jointly lead the Refugee History project, consisting of a website and online network. Their work facilitates dialogue on refugee issues among journalists, policy-makers, lawyers, NGOs, students, activists, academics, writers, artists and other individuals interested in discussing current debates surrounding refugees. Refugee History project seeks to help better understand the current refugee crisis by examining historical and political contexts and sharing information and research between a large network of interested individuals. The project ‘provides a platform for academic research, evidence from the field, professional expertise and personal experience relating to the broad issues of refugees and refugeedom.’  

As well as the online network, Dr Taylor and Professor Stonebridge produced a number of impact case studies relating to the Refugee History project, ran a series of events as part of the annual Being Human festival in late 2017, and are planning the establishment of an interdisciplinary Centre for Refugees. Creation of the centre hopes to combine supporting and promoting research with developing a coordinated programme of study across schools, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, whilst delivering a programme of academic-facing and public engagement activities.  

The Refugee History project is a valuable example of how universities can use their resources in order to share information, research and ideas surrounding refugees and facilitate discussion between different groups. After becoming a University of Sanctuary in 2017, UEA have continued to demonstrate their commitment to the Sanctuary charter and the Refugee History project illustrates a perfect example of the university working to share their resources and embed research into a longer-term project.  


Despite Covid meaning face to face meetings were not possible, there were still plenty of opportunities to get in touch with other institutions in the Universities of Sanctuary network. Universities of Sanctuary were pleased to work with Student Action for Refugees to host two webinars over Zoom, one for Scottish universities and one for those in England and Wales. The webinars were attended by universities who have already gained their award and are looking towards reappraisal, some that are in the process of applying and others who were entirely new to the concept.

Whilst we can’t wait to get back to meeting in persons, it was a great way to share best practice and strengthen the network at this time.