Every university in Britain is being urged to play its part in tackling the migrant crisis by helping make it easier for refugees and asylum-seekers to access higher education.
A group of academics have written an open letter to university vice-chancellors calling on them each to create five undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships and bursaries for students fleeing violence and war.
Charities have already been working with some universities to fund a small number of tuition-fee bursaries for student asylum-seekers, but academics and campaigners now want every institution to play its part.
Academics who are members of the Campaign for the Public University, which was launched to challenge the introduction of tuition fees, have joined forces with the Citizens UK campaign group to make the call.
They are also urging people to sign a petition backing the proposals.
Gurminder Bhambra, professor of sociology at the University of Warwick and co-founder of the Campaign for the Public University, said: “It’s important that human rights to education beyond national boundaries are recognised. Access to higher education enables individuals to develop their talents and use those talents to contribute to the societies that provide them with shelter.”
George Gabriel from Citizens UK said: “We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and every bit of society needs to play its part. Tens of thousands of people are stepping forward to help, and Britain’s universities need to do the same.”
Asylum-seekers in the UK are not allowed to work and have no right to grants or loans that would help them pay for the hugely expensive university tuition fees normally paid by international students.
The academics want universities to form closer links with projects including Article 26, which is working with 18 universities to promote access to higher education for people claiming asylum. The organisation is named after the article of the Human Rights Act which says everyone has an equal right to access higher education based on merit and not on class or ethnicity.
University researcher Rebecca Murray, who runs the project, said: “The journey to the UK for migrants is treacherous, but crossing the border isn’t the end of that difficult journey. In many ways it’s the beginning. They just want to get on in very tough circumstances. If they get the right support, they can become a valuable part of society.”
Some universities have already announced major plans to accept refugee students. The University of East London has offered 10 scholarships to Syrians sheltering in refugee camps, while the University of Sheffield is offering scholarships to students from Syria showing “exceptional academic potential”.
The University of York has launched a £500,000 package of initiatives to help refugees, including scholarships, and the University of Warwick has also offered to provide 20 scholarships.
Case study: 'I don’t want a handout. I just want to get on'