Students are pressuring Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith to support the national ‘Equal Access’ campaign at the University – which would allow students seeking asylum to benefit from fee waivers, grants and pastoral support.
Part of a campaign already launched in Bristol, Manchester, London, Leeds, Canterbury and Salford, Exeter’s Student Action for Refugees (STAR) society launched ‘Exeter Equal Access’ in September.
The group claims the University’s funding system denies students their fundamental right to an education, as those seeking refuge in the UK cannot access government fee or maintenance loans – instead relying on state support of £5 a day plus accommodation.
They want the Vice Chancellor to agree to full fee waivers for student refugees, as well as maintenance grants calculated according to a Living Cost Calculator, and pastoral care and support for those seeking asylum.
Back in September 2014 the University announced a partial fee waiver for student refugees – allowing these students to pay the ‘Home’ fee rate of £9000 rather than higher ‘International’ fees. However, the waiver came under fire when Exeposé discovered only five students had accessed these reduced costs in five months.
“Bright students who have fled atrocious circumstances deserve the basic human right of education,” Bhagya Silva, PPE student and leader of Exeter’s campaign told Exeposé, “but barriers such as the fact that asylum seekers are ineligible for Student Finance prevent them from rebuilding their lives.”
Exeter Equal Access plan to meet with University officials on 27 October to discuss the proposals. The group has also released an open letter to the Vice Chancellor.
“We are an exceptional university,” they write. “We are ambitious, we are successful and we are driven to make a positive impact on society.” Stressing that ‘home’ fees are still “beyond the means of the vast majority of asylum seekers,” they argue: “We could do so much more, and so much better.”
“The University of Exeter already supports asylum seekers through a partial tuition fee waiver,” a University spokesperson told Exeposé, “and through the excellent pastoral support which is available to all students. There is specific help for international students which includes mentoring, advice and guidance on arriving in and living in the UK.
As part of the University’s aim to work in partnership with its students, plans are already in place for Ian Blenkharn, Director of Education and Student Experience to meet with members of the Equal Access campaign on this matter.”