Earlier this year, RSN carried out research with Unicef UK on the factors that hinder and support refugee and asylum-seeking young people’s progression towards, and access to, further and higher education (FE and HE). This blog shares some of the key findings from this research. Read our research report for more detailed information.

A little bit about the research

We drew from the experiences of over 500 individuals  – refugee and asylum-seeking young people, and practitioners – from three new data sources: 

  • interviews with experts and practitioners in England;
  • interviews and focus groups with refugee and asylum-seeking young people;
  • and anonymised data from RSN’s education programmes.

What were the barriers to education transitions?

The implications of immigration status

When attempting to access FE and HE, young people’s immigration status can become a significant barrier. If young people are attempting to access FE when they are over the age of 18, their immigration status and 'ordinary residence' can, on some occasions, intersect with their age to restrict access to funding for FE courses. 

Additionally, young people with certain immigration statuses (including asylum seeker, Limited Leave to Remain and Discretionary Leave to Remain) will be confronted by significant financial constraints when attempting to access HE as a result of their status or 'ordinary residence'. These young people will be required to pay overseas fees without being able to access student finance. 

Please read our advice sheets on transitions to further and higher education for more detailed information about rights and entitlements.

Information, advice and guidance

Being unable to access timely and accurate information, advice and guidance was also prominent. Many young refugees and asylum seekers do not receive the guidance and support they need, and are denied the knowledge that they have the right to education at the FE and HE level. Some young people are left to navigate the complex rules and criteria around eligibility by themselves. One young person told us "my whole journey was about finding the information that wasn’t given to me and then [...] making my own way into university".

Mental health and emotional well-being

The many challenges that young refugees and asylum seekers face can have a negative effect on their mental health and emotional well-being. We know that young refugees and asylum seekers place a lot of importance on their education. The pressure of successfully securing a place at college or university – which often involves completing multiple applications (for both a place and for funding) while studying and taking exams – can build up. Our research found that any rejections can be particularly devastating, leaving young people doubting their self-worth and possibly triggering existing mental health conditions, or sometimes creating new ones.

Read our research report for the full list of barriers that emerged from our research.

What did we find out about the factors that support education transitions?

Persistent support 

We found that support from an individual – including social workers, teachers or representatives from the voluntary sector – that persists in the face of challenges makes a difference to young people’s ability to overcome the educational obstacles they face. Such support helps young people persevere and be resilient in the face of challenges.  Many examples of young refugees and asylum seekers remaining determined through hard times emerged from our research. As one young person told us, "I said to myself “I’m gonna go [to college], I’m gonna keep doing this so I can build up my education”. I didn’t lose hope"

Longer term educational planning

Our analysis underscored the importance of working with young people to plan their pathways to FE and HE. We found that this planning is particularly helpful if it is tailored to a young person’s individual situation – including by responding to their educational aspirations, age, immigration status, academic ability, previous educational experiences, and language abilities.

A commitment from education institutions

A commitment from education institutions to admit and support refugee and asylum-seeking pupils is crucial. Our research shines a light on the work that schools, colleges and universities have done to help young refugees and asylum seekers progress through education and access FE and HE. Examples from our research included: 

  • offering bursaries or scholarships; 
  • providing opportunities such as open days or summer courses for young people from forced displacement backgrounds; 
  • taking the time to provide young people with accurate information; and 
  • using contextual approaches to recognise young people’s academic potential and prior learning.

Read our research report for the full list of supportive factors that emerged from our research.

The way forward 

Our research suggests that the barriers to realising refugees’ and asylum seekers’ right to education intersect, accumulate and become increasingly restrictive as young people attempt to transition into FE and HE. Despite these barriers, our research has also clearly demonstrated that education progression is achievable. We have developed recommendations to a range of actors – the Department for Education, the Home Office, higher education institutions, further education institutions, schools, the voluntary sector and the private sector. Read our report to find out more!

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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