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    Supporting refugees

    Educational access for refugees and those seeking asylum can experience a number of barriers, including limited available infrastructure and steep financial hurdles. Niamh Ollerton explores how institutions are helping refugees overcome these hurdles.

    In 1948, the United Nations, through article 26 of its Universal Declaration, enshrined education a fundamental human right that “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In 2022, however, access to education is more of a privilege than a right for many children, teenagers, and adults across the globe.

    “Access to education is more of a privilege than a right for many across the globe.”

    Whether through a lack of schools, low family earnings, discrimination, or oppression from governing bodies, many prospective students suffer. There are thousands more fleeing war-torn countries for safety, and even after undertaking these courageous emigrations for a better life, many find themselves locked out from the education system in the countries they would like to call home. To quote Muzoon Almellehan, Syrian refugee and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, “Education gave me the strength to carry on. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

    Frameworks to help refugees
    There are positive frameworks where institutions, governments, and global governing bodies are offering their assistance. The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, for example, is a specially developed assessment scheme for refugees. The scheme includes provisions for those who have incomplete documentation of their qualifications, providing an assessment of the level of higher education attainment based on what is available of their documentation and a structured interview. In Germany, asylum-seeking students have the same rights to access higher education as local students and can apply for exemptions to university fees.

    UNHR shared its Refugee Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugees, in 2019, which aims to directly contribute to the goals of easing the pressures on host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance, and supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. The strategy’s vision is that inclusion in equitable quality education in national systems contributes to resilience, prepares children and youth for participation in cohesive societies, and is the best policy option for refugees, displaced and stateless children and youth, and their hosting communities.

    Universities helping refugees

    Imperial College Business School in the UK has been working with community leaders in France to help create a guide for Ukrainian people displaced there. A team of students, faculty, and staff from the business school have been working with the French charity Solidarité Ukraine to create a playbook for communities to help Ukrainian refugees.

    Leila Guerra, Vice Dean (Education) at Imperial College Business School says the playbook explains how a community can rally together to identify, transport, welcome, house, clothe, educate, provide healthcare, and employ displaced Ukrainians quickly. It identifies team leads for several categories of support that those fleeing the war require, the steps needed from each to deliver service in that area, and checklists for how to do it well.

    Imperial and Solidarité Ukraine’s response was swift. The first published version of the playbook was circulated to community leaders in Saint-Omer on 11 April, about six weeks after the invasion and a month after Mary Meaney, a member of the Business School’s Advisory Board and the Imperial Council had pulled together a first draft.

    Guerra says, “The initiative began in Tilques/Saint-Omer in Northern France, which currently has welcomed about 300 Ukrainians (largely women, children, disabled, and elderly), but throughout France, the work that this group has contributed to, has supported many more hundreds of displaced Ukrainians in communities including Lille and Dunkirk.”

    Professor Celia Moore and Marina Lobato Moncayola, the lead of student engagement at Imperial College Business School, went to France to better understand how the operation functioned on the ground. “They were able to see first-hand how the community came together so quickly, which helped as they translated what they learned into generalisable knowledge that could be shared more broadly, so that other communities could be as effective in organising their approach to welcoming groups of displaced people,” Guerra says.

    Imperial College Business School recently launched a new scholarship fund designed to support students from displaced communities, such as asylum seekers and refugees. “The donor-backed Sanctuary Scholarship Fund will provide scholarships at both undergraduate and master’s levels,” says Guerra. “Imperial is matching donations received for the fund, aiming to award the first scholarships as early as the 2022/23 academic year. The fund currently stands at close to £250,000 of donations and Imperial funding.”

    In Germany, the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management recently launched a Hardship Fund, which was intended as a donation scheme aimed at funding refugees’ expenses and degrees. After some consideration, the school ended up setting up scholarships for all students fleeing wars, allowing them to get an education at Frankfurt for free. “The Hardship Fund supports students who suddenly find themselves in a position where they unexpectedly need financial help,” explains Carsten Vogel, Development Director at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

    “The starting point for our fundraising appeal, which started in early March, is the war in Ukraine and the wave of refugees fleeing the conflict. Our leadership decided early on that we want to offer students who meet our usual entry requirements what we can do best: the life-changing opportunity of higher education.”

    Enquiries have already begun to trickle in, but Vogel notes the fund is reserved for those who were already studying relevant degrees or whose plans were disrupted by their refugee status. He is clear that the Hardship Fund is not designed to replace the classic scholarship model. “Financial need will be reviewed on a continuous basis. If students retain their refugee status, continue, and finish their studies at Frankfurt School successfully, and can prove their financial circumstances qualify them for scholarship support, the degree may be obtained without tuition fees.”

    Aalto University School of Business launched similar initiatives for refugee students. Tiina Ritvala, Assistant Dean of Teaching and Education spoke about the Finish university’s initiative to grant study rights without fees and with scholarships to Ukraine’s university students. “This is intended for students who have a valid right to study towards a degree at a Ukrainian university, and who either have Ukrainian citizenship or have been granted asylum by Ukraine, and whose studies have been interrupted by the war.”

    So far, 17 students have applied to the School of Business alone through the initiative, all receiving an acceptance letter. In total, Aalto University received and accepted over 50 applications across all its programmes..

    In addition to granting study rights without fees and with scholarships to Ukraine’s university students, the business school has also offered places to visiting researchers fleeing the war in Ukraine as well as free-of-charge studies at the Open University for Ukraine citizens.
    “In addition, our alumni network has been active and calls our alumni to help Ukraine, for example through donations. We follow the Finnish government’s recommendations carefully and act based on them. If the government suggests further actions, we will follow those recommendations as well,” she says. The university also provides services to support the mental wellbeing of Ukrainian students and those seeking asylum.

    Ritvala says, “These students can contact the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS), a health service that is available for all university students, or they can contact the learning services of their school or the Starting Point of Wellbeing, a service that offers students advice and guidance on services related to wellbeing. “Students can also write to a specific email address, and a multi-professional team will read and treat all messages on a confidential basis.”

    This article was from the Global Education News Issue 08. Download the full edition.

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