Refugee Action St Andrews (RASA), a student-led society affiliated with the Students’ Association, have successfully passed a motion with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) lobbying the University of St Andrews to provide more opportunities for equal access to education for forced migrants.
The motion was passed on Tuesday 6 November after RASA gained 500 signatures from students, staff, and townspeople in support of their petition to develop scholarship opportunities for migrants and to classify all those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom as home students for fee purposes.
President of RASA, Ttashi Thahir, a former refugee from Pakistan herself, said that the motion marks “a powerful expression of student and town support for a more inclusive St Andrews.”
Speaking about the reasons behind the initial petition, Ms Thahir explained, “Refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK have access to student finance, whereas those with pending applications in the Home Office, called asylum seekers, are not allowed to take out student loans and therefore study in another country. Asylum seekers are also denied the right to work in the UK and receive only £37.75 a week in financial support.”
She continued, “At the moment, asylum seekers and people with discretionary leave to remain and humanitarian protection status are categorised as ‘international students’ by the University of St Andrews, meaning they are expected to pay fees upwards of £20,000, an impossible cost based on their circumstances.
“Universities have the power to decide how asylum seeker students will be classed for fees purposes. Many other universities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, King’s College London, and LSE have amended their policies to classify asylum seekers as ‘home students’ or have waived fees for asylum seekers entirely.
“In addition, some asylum claims can take more than 20 years to process, therefore having access to education during this time is critical to accessing further opportunities in life.
“Refugee Action St Andrews (RASA) has taken on this issue because we believe that refugees deserve equal access to the excellent education St Andrews provides and that it is also within the interests of the University, students, and town to have a more diverse student body.”
Ms Thahir added, “We are witnessing the biggest displacement of people in Europe probably since the Second World War. During times like this, keeping higher education opportunities available is crucial because skilled workers and universities play an important role in rebuilding countries after conflict. 63 scholarships have already been introduced in universities across the UK and we are asking St Andrews to open its doors too.”
RASA has also received support from local MP Stephen Gethins, who stated, “It is easy to see the news about the refugee crisis and to feel helpless. It is such a huge challenge, and so far away, but the truth is there is always something each of us can do to help.
“I am proud that the students of St Andrews University [sic] in my constituency want to help contribute by making it easier for bright refugees and asylum seekers to come and study here. I wish their campaign success and I hope the University’s leadership listen and take on board their ideas.
“By classing asylum seekers as foreign students, the Westminster government’s policies deny people the opportunity for a university education and stop them from contributing fully to our society. This is simply wrong. Until those policies are changed, campaigns like this one are vital to help show that we in Scotland really do welcome refugees.”
The next steps for RASA will be to continue to raise awareness about this issue while also arranging a meeting with the Vice Chancellor to discuss options for scholarships.
Readers can find out more about RASA and their campaign on their facebook page at www.facebook.com/RefugeeActionStAndrews.