Our higher education programme manager describes what happened at a workshop for young refugees and asylum seekers who'd set their hearts on going to university.

Qudrat* hedged his bets and hovered around the 'not sure' mark, while Hussain placed his feet firmly in the ‘no’ camp. Najma was a hesitant ‘yes’ but it turns out that she was right.Yes, refugees are charged home fees at university. Yes, they are eligible for Student Finance. Yes, they can work.

But it’s unsurprising that they weren’t certain. They’d just discovered that young people with discretionary leave to remain (DLR) – the status given to most unaccompanied asylum seeking children – are charged international student fees and are not eligible for Student Finance. And that those with humanitarian protection can only access this financial support after being in the UK for three years

Running between ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘not sure’ in response to my questions about the entitlements attached to different immigration statuses, Qudrat sighed: ‘this is too complicated’. Abdul chuckled. He’d discovered that if he kept standing next to ‘no’ he’d be correct often enough.

It was a cold November evening and these young people had travelled from different parts of London to participate in a higher education workshop run by RSN.

Running around seemed like a fairly enjoyable way of engaging with all that complex information. It worked, and they laughed as they learnt. However, when the group sat back down and filled in a worksheet, some of the fun evaporated. As they puzzled through their particular situations, the upsetting reality dawned.

This means that as an asylum seeker I’ll have to pay international student fees. And if I can’t get Student Finance it will be impossible for me to go to university next year, said Efrem disbelievingly.

While the barriers to moving forward in education can seem insurmountable, offering young asylum seekers and refugees accurate information helps them understand what their options are and plan ahead.

Through the workshop, Efrem realised that there may still be a chance for him to go to university next year through Article 26, a project which offers some fee-waiver places to asylum seeking students. The next question we had to address was how he’d continue to learn and develop his skills while also dealing with his frustration at his limited options for moving forward. 

Hussain, on the other hand, was encouraged that as a refugee he will be counted as a home student and will be eligible for the financial support he needs to go to university next September with a view to becoming a teacher further down the line. But, having been in the UK for a short time and without the support of a family, college or local authority, he needed some wider advice about choosing courses and getting his Sudanese qualifications recognised here

Abdul discovered that to pursue his dream of becoming a mechanic his progression in education may not involve university after all. He left with a clearer idea of how to navigate his way along the path that’s best for him.

Grace stayed quietly until the others had left. As an asylum seeker who wants to study nursing, one of the courses funded by NHS bursaries for which she is not entitled, the costs of higher education are currently prohibitive for her. As we sat together and talked about her struggles to stay optimistic in the face of multiple barriers and uncertainty, I was reminded of RSN’s frequent discussions about what hope means for the young people we meet.

Efrem, Hussain, Abdul, Qudrat and Najma all hope for different things. It was sad and humbling to sit alongside someone like Grace who feels powerless to change her situation and despondent about the constant deferral of her hope. But it was encouraging to see the others learning how to recognise and address the barriers they face so that they can pursue the possibilities that the future holds for them.

Find out more about how our higher education team can help you.

* All names have been changed to preserve identity.

Refugee Support Network is a charity registered in England & Wales under charity number 1132509 and company number 06879651 at 1st Floor, The Salvation Army Building, London NW10 4JJ. We use cookies to improve your experience using this website. To learn more, read our privacy policy.
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