UK universities ‘should provide targeted support for refugee students’

Researcher argues that a sector-wide approach to supporting refugees would be more effective than individual schemes

January 25, 2016
Source: iStock

Universities could play a pivotal role in tackling the Syrian refugee crisis, a recent paper has suggested.

The report argues that a significant proportion of any refugee group is likely to be highly skilled and educated university students, who have historically given back to society more than they have received in aid.

It cites previous refugee crises, including those fleeing Nazism in the 1930s, Hungary in 1956 and Chile after 1973, and notes that in Britain student refugees have made considerable contributions to the economy, academia, science, culture and the arts.

Georgina Brewis, senior lecturer in the history of education at UCL’s Institute of Education and author of the paper, Student solidarity across borders: Students, universities and refugee crises past and present, said universities are often able to respond quickly to changing social needs, making them well placed to turn their attention to the current refugee crisis.

She suggested that universities should consider focusing on targeted support for refugee students, through policies such as fee waivers, scholarships and schemes to pair refugees with host students. While she noted that individual UK institutions have started to develop such initiatives, she argued that a sector-wide approach would be most effective.

“While refugees currently fleeing civil war in Syria and elsewhere are a diverse group, history shows that specific programmes for refugee students – as part of a wider aid package – can have profound and lasting benefits for both recipients and the host society,” she said.

“These benefits can be hard to quantify because, while many student refugees do build new lives, careers and relationships in host countries after graduation, others move on elsewhere – often to the USA – after their education is completed.

"This is likely to continue to be the case in today’s even more globalised world, but should not be taken as a reason not to support student refugees to get a UK university education. Importantly, many will eventually return to help with economic and social reconstruction in the countries they left as refugee students, even if this is decades later.”

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