Members of STAR and Amnesty Society and the founder of the From Syria with Love exhibition have criticised the University’s response to the refugee crisis, after it was revealed that fewer than five students are currently in receipt of the Asylum Seekers’ Tuition Fee Waiver.
Figures obtained through an Exeposé Freedom of Information request showed that fewer than five applications for the waiver were granted for the current academic year, while fewer than five are pending review for 2016/17. Exact figures were not provided in correspondence with Data Protection Principles, as their disclosure may identify individuals.
In place since September 2014, the partial fee waiver allows “asylum seekers, children of asylum seekers or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who meet the academic programme requirements” to pay the ‘Home’ rather than “International” tuition fee while their application for asylum in the UK is under consideration by the Home Office.
Syrian-born Baraa Ehssan Kouja, a Masters student at the University and founder of the “From Syria with Love” exhibition of refugee children’s artwork, described the initiative as “a good way of showing solidarity”, but expressed concern that most asylum-seeking students would still struggle to cover costs.
“If we actually want to help, we need to know that most asylum seekers cannot afford £9,000 a year. All asylum seekers come from developing countries with around 80 per cent of them coming from war zones so they won’t be able to afford it.”
Student Action for Refugees (STAR) member Arabella Comyn echoed these remarks, adding: “Refugees tend not to have access to economic support and would therefore be unlikely to fund themselves. Given how few refugee families will be actually entering and staying in Exeter, I think it would be possible and better for them to have access to free education.”
According to Secretary of STAR, Bhagya Silva, “the real problem isn’t the fees, it is asylum seekers’ access to student finance. Or, rather, their lack of access to it. Loans offered directly by the University to asylum seekers would make a much more significant, positive impact.”
Under current Home Office regulations, even students in receipt of the fee waiver are still classed as ‘International’ and unable to apply for tuition fee or maintenance loans. With their case is decided, students seeking humanitarian protection are also not allowed to work, heightening their financial struggles.
In response to this, Article 26, Citizens UK and Campaign for the Public University, amongst other humanitarian organisations, have been lobbying UK university Vice Chancellors to offer at least 10 bursaries or scholarships to cover the full costs of study. As a result, over 20 UK universities are now offering scholarships and bursary schemes to refugees, totalling around £1.5 million in nationwide support, according to Citizens UK. Edinburgh University pledged five undergraduate and four post-graduate full scholarships, as well as a further £100,000 for “other forms of assistance” last week, while the University of Sussex offered to support 50 Syrian refugees last year with scholarships of £10,000, an intensive English language course and £100 per week towards living costs.
“I think we should also be offering scholarships and bursaries specifically for asylum seekers; as it’s something that a number of other universities are already doing”, President of Amnesty Society, Ellen Boivin, told Exeposé.
Referencing the small amount of stydents receiving the waiver, she added: “The University should definetly be doing more to firstly make asylum seekrs and their children feel welcome at our University and secondly to make them aware of their eligibility in receiving “home” rather than “international” fees. My guess is that the University has not publicised the fee waiver as much as it could have, or gone out of its way to make sure asylum seekers are aware of the opportunities that studying at Exeter could bring them.”
Ian Blenkharn, Director of Education and Student Experience at the University, commented: “The University is pleased to be able to offer this positive commitment to support those who face severe challenges in their homeland. The part-tuition waiver scheme was agreed in partnership with the Students’ Guild. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, and so the figures shown reflect the number of applications by eligible asylum seekers, children of asylum seekers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children the University received.”
Naomi Armstrong, VP Welfare and Diversity, stated that the Guild are “keen to support the University to welcome refugees to Exeter.”
“The Sabbs have been working to develop the ‘University of Sanctuary’ project proposed by students to introduce schemes such as free society memberships for refugees”, she said.