Refugees and asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Why might these individuals struggle to access higher education and what can be done to overcome these barriers?
Refugees or asylum seekers are individuals who have been forced to flee their country due to risk of persecution, war, or natural disasters, and are seeking a new life elsewhere without a perpetual fear for their safety.
Higher education can play a crucial role in establishing a positive experience for these individuals in a new country.
As explained by the Refugee Support Network, it “contributes to rebuilding the lives of individual refugees, is a tool of reconstruction in countries of origin, and can enable refugees to contribute more to their host communities.”
However, there are several barriers facing refugees and asylum seekers wishing to pursue higher education.
Settling into a foreign environment can be an incredibly overwhelming experience, requiring a person to learn an entirely new set of rules and customs.
This issue is exacerbated for those refugees seeking a route into higher education, as they will be unaccustomed to the steps required in applying and attending university in their host country.
Language can also be a barrier for prospective students in this situation, not only when navigating the process of applying for university but also during their studies.
Another obstacle facing refugees and asylum seekers is the often complicated process of getting their current qualifications recognized in a new country.
Many refugees find it challenging to transfer their credentials to a foreign educational environment or to provide accepted evidence of their educational history, delaying their application for a significant period.
In addition to this, university is typically a costly experience for the average student, yet for refugees, who may arrive in a host country without financial stability, paying for university can seem an almost impossible task.
How can your institution support refugees and asylum seekers?
One of the most effective steps your institution can take to support refugees and asylum seekers wishing to pursue higher education is to increase the information and guidance available to them.
Ensure that your university website, prospectus, and other resources have clear instructions for any prospective student with refugee or asylum seeker status.
Staff assisting refugees and asylum seekers with their applications will need to overcome language barriers, whether that’s by utilizing their own foreign language skills or by outsourcing further help.
The University of Westminster in the UK has a webpage dedicated to supporting refugees and asylum seekers in their pursuit of a degree.
On this page, students will find links to support networks and other organizations, as well as advice and guidance on how they might fund their studies.
As highlighted on the website, much of the difficulty in the application process for these potential students rests in having an undetermined citizenship status.
They explain that, in the UK, “if you’re an asylum seeker and the Home Office has not reached a decision on your asylum claim… You will not be eligible for a Student Finance England Tuition Fee Loan or any of the other loans and grants normally available.”
A similar situation exists in other countries, where many prospective students face delays to their higher education application, including access to financial assistance, while they await decisions from the government.
This is a huge obstacle for refugees and asylum seekers and one that your institution must address in order to help prospective students have a clearer route into higher education.
Scholarships are a lifeline for many refugees and asylum seekers, and for some, they’re the only solution to funding their studies, particularly while they await feedback from the government.
The Refugee Education Special Interest Group directs individuals to the scholarships available for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.
These include the Charles Sturt University Refugee and Asylum Seeker scholarship and the Griffith University Refugee Scholarship.
Ensure your institution has a range of suitable scholarships available and help prospective students throughout their application process.
If your institution needs further direction on how they can best support refugees and asylum seekers during the application process and beyond, there are likely to be several external organizations and projects in your country dedicated to this cause.
Groups such as the Refugee Support Network, Refugee Support, and IIE are just a few examples of organizations that should be able to provide your institution with information required to develop a refugee and asylum seeker support network for prospective and current students.
It’s crucial that the support provided by your institution doesn’t only occur during the planning and application stage of a prospective student’s higher education journey, but also throughout their studies.
London Metropolitan University has a specialist department, the Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit (RAGU), dedicated to supporting refugees during their time at the institution and beyond.
The services they provide include “specialist careers advice and guidance, as well as employability training for all refugee health professionals.”
With the right guidance from the higher education sector, a refugee or asylum seeker can access the education they deserve and continue their journey towards a better future.
To discuss how your institution can implement forward-thinking, sector-leading initiatives and projects like the ones mentioned above, please contact our QS Consulting team.