News blog: are universities doing enough in response to the refugee crisis?

The academic community's spirit of generosity is apparent in the way it has responded to Syria's civil war, says Ellie Bothwell

September 10, 2015
Syrian refugee camp
Source: iStock

Universities have a long history of helping refugees in times of crisis, and this spirit of generosity has continued during the ongoing civil war in Syria.

An estimated 4 million Syrians have fled the country since 2011, according to the United Nations, and many universities across the world are responding by providing funded places for some of these resettled individuals to pursue higher education.

This week University of the People, an online non-profit institution based in California, announced it will accept 500 Syrian refugees to study a tuition-free bachelor’s degree in business administration or computer science. Examination costs for a degree at the university usually total about $4,000 (£2,600).

The university said a special policy, approved by its accrediting agency DEAC, has been established in order to admit refugees and asylum seekers in cases where official transcripts and documents cannot be obtained.

The University of Glasgow has so far taken in two Syrian academics as PhD students. It has also announced a series of measures to support refugee students who have settled in the UK, including introducing fee waivers and extending the institution’s talent scholarship scheme to support refugee undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The institution has established a research fellowship in partnership with the Council for At Risk Academics (Cara), with an annual fund of £10,000, which will be available to Cara-referred academics.

Meanwhile, more than 60 universities in Germany are already providing education, language tuition and financial assistance to help the country’s refugees become students. Institutions have also given advice on how to prepare for student life, legal advice, psychological support and help to find accommodation, according to a recent report.

Kiron University, an online institution headquartered in Berlin, has launched a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising €1.2 million (£900,000) to offer refugees a two-year online programme, followed by one or two years at a partner institution. The institution is seeking more partner universities and volunteers in the UK.

The University of the Aegean, which has campuses on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Rhodes, Syros and Lemnos, said it would write to the Greek government to ask if it can admit more students than its official limit, in response to an influx of migrants to the country’s shores.

Academics, independent of their institutions, are playing their own part in helping refugees, by urging European Union decision-makers to offer asylum to Syrian refugees, using this petition. Citizens UK has also called on all universities in the UK to create at least 10 fully funded studentships or bursaries so refugees can continue their education at undergraduate, graduate and post-doctorate levels.

These projects are welcome, but do you feel the higher education sector is doing enough to help those who have been persecuted and displaced by the violence?

Update (14 September 2015):

Several Canadian universities have announced initiatives to help refugees. Georgian College in Ontario has created an award, which will cover the cost of tuition, books and ancillary fees for up to seven Syrian refugees – one studying at each of the institution’s seven campuses.

The University of Regina’s students’ union has collected CA$100,000 (£49,000), through a levy on students, for the World University of Canada’s student refugee program (SRP). Vianne Timmons, president of the University of Regina, announced this month that the institution will match that amount. The programme helps student refugees pay for tuition, books, rent and clothing.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Ryerson University partnered with Lifeline Syria, a movement that aims to secure private sponsorship for 1,000 refugees to resettle in Toronto over the next two years. The university’s call for support has attracted nearly 100 student and staff volunteers, who will help support 11 refugee families for up to one year at an estimated cost of CA$27,000 (£13,000).

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