Fee waivers to support refugee students

The University of Glasgow is to introduce a series of measures to support refugee students who have settled in the UK.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “We are facing a major refugee crisis in Europe and, as it has done so many times in the past, the University community is responding in a meaningful, tangible way.

“We shall be offering four fee waivers – one for each of our Colleges. These fee waivers would be available to applicants who do not currently qualify for free tuition through the Scottish Funding Council at undergraduate and postgraduate taught level.”

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Professor Muscatelli added that the University’s Talent Scholarship scheme was being extended to support refugee undergraduate and postgraduate students. 

“I know that a number of members of staff have already expressed a desire to offer financial support to refugee students. I would commend this refugee scholarship scheme to them. It will be available through the Giving pages of the Development and Alumni Office,” he added.

The University has a long history of being a place of safety for learners, teachers and researchers under threat or in need of refuge.

Most recently, it welcomed two Syrian academics as PhD students - Muhammad and Joury (not their real names) - who fled in fear of the Syrian state and Isis alike.

During World War II, the Glasgow University Settlement offered accommodation to refugees from the Nazi regime, while special education arrangements were put in place for Austrian and Czech doctors and Polish lawyers.

In recent years, the University has offered its moral and financial support to asylum-seeking students by providing living cost bursaries to support them in their studies here. Members of staff play a leading role in GRAMNet – Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network – conducting internationally-recognised research and qualitative evaluation on migration, refugees and the asylum process. 

GRAMNet’s Co-Convener, Professor Alison Phipps, has written movingly about how she and her partner have, over the past nine years, hosted refugees from China, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Eritrea and Somalia.
Her experience began as a befriender of detainees at the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.

“I’d lobbied on asylum and refugee-related matters for years. There was no hope of the then Labour UK Government changing its policies either on detention, on detention of children, or on destitution. So it was just time to do something myself. Sometimes I think you can feel a pressure within - we call it conscience - which means you just know you have to act. We had a spare room that wasn’t being used,” she said.

She is a strong supporter of CARA – the Council for At Risk Academics, established in 1933 by leading British academics and scientists of the day to provide refuge and support for academic colleagues who were being forced by Nazi discrimination and violence to leave German and Austria. It was then called the Academic Assistance Council (AAC) and one of the signatories of its founding statement was Robert S. Rait, then Principal of the University of Glasgow. CARA scholars from that time include Rudolph Schlesinger, co-founder of the University’s Institute of Soviet and East European Studies, and Guido Pontecorvo, one of the founding fathers of modern genetics.

Professor Alison Phipps

The University has recently renewed its membership of CARA, said Professor John Briggs, who is the University’s Refugee Champion as well as Clerk of Senate and Vice Principal.

He said: “I am proud that this University reached out and helped Muhammad and Joury – a husband and wife who fled Syria and are both now PhD students at Glasgow – but I know that there are many others who need our help.

“Scholars and centres of learning have become the specific target of attack and academics are being forced to flee their homes and homelands in their thousands. Consequently, CARA’s role in safeguarding lives and learning is particularly critical now and appeals for its resources are many. It therefore seems an appropriate time for the University of Glasgow to further consolidate its relationship with CARA by establishing a much-needed University of Glasgow CARA Research Fellowship to provide a lifeline to CARA referred academics. The first two recipients are expected to be announced in the near future.

“These fellowships will allow selected fellows to rebuild their skills by providing a stipend and access to the library and other University of Glasgow facilities. A programme of work will be agreed in advance with the host School or Research Institute at the university. The duration of the fellowships will be between six and twelve months. The annual total fund of £10,000 may be awarded to one applicant for a maximum of twelve months or divided between more applicants for shorter periods (for example, two six-month stipends). With growing awareness of the benefits of these fellowships, we hope to attract further financial support.”ESOL

For Muhammad and Joury – both studying at the School of Education – support from CARA was vital in brokering a place for them at Glasgow. The University waived their fees; CARA took care of the rest.

The couple have also welcomed the announcement of the University's new measures to support refugee students: "This is really a great initiative. We are sure it will mean a lot to those who will benefit from it. We are not surprised by the generosity of the University of Glasgow as we have experienced this spirit of giving and we know that the University has always supported refugees and those who need help."

Muhammad explained that in their case, "the University of Glasgow was the only one to offer help".

He added: "We got PhD offers from the University of Exeter, where we got our MA degrees, Warwick, Kings College London and the University of Glasgow. CARA approached one of these universities but they apologised and said they couldn't help us."

He used to teach English across various faculties at Damascus University. Students started to disappear and colleagues were kidnapped. The police would drink coffee in the canteen – everyone was a potential spy.

“They asked me to report the names of students, of potential troublemakers. They said it was either you or them. The campus was turning in on itself. It was brutal, merciless,” said Muhammad.
Academics were targeted by the state and Isis alike, he said.

“Teachers, intellectuals – they are the people who can question their legitimacy.”

The couple fled during study week at the university, travelling separately for safety; Joury was in the early stages of pregnancy – their son Ahmed was born in Kuwait. When their baby was just a few months old, Muhammad was imprisoned for overstaying their tourist visa and the family were deported. They made it to Turkey, stranded with no jobs, no money and a newborn child. They couldn’t afford the £25,000 smugglers were charging for the fake visas they needed to travel by air and were nor ready to brave the sea. It was while Googling at the airport that they make contact with CARA.

What could and should be done in the higher education sector in the opinion of Muhammad and Joury?

“There are lots of ways to support CARA. For example, by donations or encouraging universities to accept more Syrian students, waiving their fees as the University of Glasgow has done or even through providing internship opportunities to help students with their maintenance fees.

“There are lots of scholarship programmes offered by UK universities each year. They can allocate some scholarships for Syrians in general and those who have applied for CARA's help in particular. It is not just about helping those who want to continue their studies; UK universities can provide academics with posts and research opportunities so that they can refine and develop their skills and even the UK itself can benefit from their expertise,” they said.

First published: 14 September 2015