Africa Future – Asylum Seekers, Refugees and A Desire for Education

Refugee Week Community event – 29 June 2019

One month… one community event – what is happening in Glasgow among different communities? Sam Bisiriyu and Tim Lehuraux from The BaRE UK report.

On a random Saturday afternoon

That Saturday afternoon, at the end of June 2019, one walking around Kinning Park might think that there is no human social activity ongoing in this quiet part of Glasgow. Only the cars on the motorway seem to disturb this steady picture.

But in fact, as you dare walk to the backcourt of a historical building, which looks like a school yard, you may find a busy room. More than 100 people gathered on this cloudy Saturday afternoon for an event organised by Africa Future, as part of the Refugee Week.

A large community was reunited to discuss rights to education for asylum seekers and refugees. Why an event about rights to education?

According to a member of Africa Future, through various events and conversations with charities and in the community, a clear impression emerged: there is a growing number of asylum seekers depressed and worried about their future because they cannot access University despite wanting to, even sometimes after completing the entry requirements at college.

Therefore, something had to be organised to inform Asylum seekers and Refugees on how to seize all potential opportunities no matter how small, for instance, how to apply for Scholarship to be able to study at the University level. To provide information and entertain self-belief, personal and collective ambitions is vital to the people. 

Africa Future was set up in June 2017 by 7 people, from different African countries, different immigration statutes, different educational backgrounds, and varying amounts of time spent in the UK, but with one objective: to improve the lifestyle of African people in Scotland, especially in education, sports, and health. How? By helping the newcomers access relevant information, benefit from others’ experiences about how things go in the UK, and overcome, or rather cope with destitution.

When one arrives in a new environment, let alone a new country that has a complex body of rules with regards to what they can and cannot do, the amount of information to acquire may seem overwhelming and hard to understand. Especially in a non-native language.

Hunger to know

Africa Future organises events to provide information and facilitate networking between members of the African community in Glasgow, though events and networking available to all. Help has to be horizontal, as people can help each other. Everybody has some form of experience and some right information to share. Access to the right information is key. Sometimes people will call the organisation directly and will receive individual support and advice.

While partner charities set up their table, and everyone is slowing getting to their chair, a lady walks through the audience to distribute cake. In this unusual warm and humid grey in Glasgow, some dressed up, some opted for a more casual look and many came with children.

Facing rows of occupied chairs, and standing legs at the back (about 25 people standing), a panel hears testimonies and answer questions regarding opportunities for asylum seekers in terms of further and higher education.

Panellists are diverse. The Scottish Refugee Council, the local MPs and police officers are here, and share the floor with a former asylum seekers who fiercely fought for their right to study and overcame the obstacles, members of staff from Higher and Further education institutions were also present, namely Glasgow Clyde College and Strathclyde University.

Josephine Oboh-Mcleod, Artistic Director of Phinessence, told how she came to Glasgow after access to a postgraduate was denied to her in Malawi, her home country, and then in Manchester. She claimed asylum in Scotland where she could not study for 5 years. Still, she completed a Masters in Human Rights law through the Asylum seeker Scholarship offered at Strathclyde University while seeking asylum and looking after her three children as a single mother.

Roza Salih, from the Glasgow Girls, was at the initiative of scholarships for Asylum seekers in Scotland, received loud applause when reiterating her support to the “right of asylum seekers to study”, as simple as that. She also sought to enforce her rights, so much so that she did not hesitate to follow two part-time programmes in two different colleges in order to go around the impossibility of study full time.

Questions quickly arise from diverse personalities: concerned ones, others assertive. Shirt and ties share the floor with t-shirt, summer dresses with professional-looking jackets. All seem to point to three main themes: issues around access to further education, funding opportunities, and a more introspective look into personal ambitions and believes.

Access to the right information proves key as the audience hears about a new scholarship opportunities.

A member of Strathclyde University came to introduce a scholarship put in place that has allowed up to 19 people to study at Strathclyde undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. This is the scholarship from which Ms Oboh-Mcleod benefited. Many want to know more.

How to apply for the scholarship opportunity developed by University of Strathclyde? What is the remit of the initiative? Are PhD included? Which programmes are open? Does the scholarship include professional courses, such as accounting?

Indeed, some asylum seekers had completed higher and further education degrees before moving to the UK. Therefore, they are interested in more professional courses or PhD as satisfying alternatives to employment, which is not an option.

Strathclyde University Scholarship Initiative

Only undergrad and Masters’ degrees are available at the moment. Budgetary limitations prevent the extension of scholarships to PhD bids for the moment. In this respect, funding is an issue across the board, not just for asylum seekers, as the panellist from Strathclyde University reminds the audience. Some professional courses may be considered if already available, but no such application has been made yet.

There is a selection process, in order to assess the following aspects:


To which degree asylum or other forced immigration statuses was an obstacle to accessing further and higher education?

How does that contribute to personal development and community?

What is the “academic value” of the candidate?

However, as part of the entry requirements to qualify for the Asylum Seeker scholarship, access to higher or further college courses are necessary to hold a conditional or unconditional offer of study at Strathclyde university.

Restrictions and frustrations

Further, frustrations arise as rules limit the ability of asylum seekers to study as much as they want. Other questions implicitly point to the structural gaps in the education system, and ask for change, even beyond the development of scholarship initiatives that remain an exception. Asylum seekers are considered as international students, and in this respect face higher financial requirements (Tuition fees).  How could that change?

While all agree that student funding rules should change, a panellist from Strathclyde Uni point to legal constraints: Only students with Indefinite Leave to Remain (not any kind of Leave to Remain) may be considered home students.

That immediately leads to a second question: How can asylum seeking children move from school to higher/further education, as many children finish school before their family’s claim is determined by the Home Office?

When classified as international students, asylum seekers are required to pay international fees for full-time studies. They are therefore constrained into part-time courses for which fee waivers are available. Only young asylum seekers (under 25 years old) may be considered home students, provided that they have been in Scotland for at least 3 years (see Box below).

As some wonder what the Scottish Government can do about it under its devolved powers, Roza Salih encourages the audience to have the audacity to play the system and overcome it, to make injustice powerless whenever possible. She herself was a part-time student in two separate higher education institutions, therefore achieving full time education.

Finally, the discussion touches surrounding topics, related to but not focused on education rights.

What happens next, once education rights are properly enforced? Which employment opportunities after studying? Again, as the legal and cultural environment fails to provide the proper opportunities, panellists cannot avoid calling for a change in recruitment strategies, and a systemic reflection that goes beyond individual interests, supported by local politics in action. However, this is long-term and collective thinking. And the answer is in Westminster.

A member of the audience, a youth tutor, lays stress on an indirect yet related topic: What opportunities are there for children who grow up in difficult environments sometimes due to parents’ constrained professional schedules (working unsocial hours such as night and weekend shifts), and may therefore make mistakes?[1]

The environment creates additional burden and obstacles beyond limited rights to study for adults. These eventually weigh on families’ ability to exploit better opportunities for their children. Which goes beyond education opportunities.

Ambition and self-belief, a first step to rights expansion

However, personal experiences and testimonies coming from panellists and members of the audience seek to offer options within this flawed system. However, frustrating it may be, volunteering is encouraged, and is said to provide valuable experience. Rasha and Rosa both meet loud waves of applause as they encourage individuals to use their inner strength to overcome the odds. Be stronger than the system until it becomes fair. As Maya Angelou put it, “you may encounter many defeats but you must never be defeated”.

Members of the audience also share personal examples of resilience, and call upon others to not limit their ambitions. A person who had volunteered for years explains how she had to retrain despite experience acquired in community volunteering, and eventually got the job she was aiming for. “Asylum seekers are full of ideas and can do more than study” one says. “Aim for IT, engineering, pharmacy. You don’t have to pay, go for it!” says another one. As if the first obstacle to empowerment was in fact self-limitation. These call for confidence and ambition resonate as encouragements to exploit every single space that is allowed to explore by the legal system. Some mention free online courses as another option.

As the local member of the Glasgow City Council puts it, there are two ways to ensure equality: equal access and equal belief. A faithful summary of the spirit of participants to this conversation.

As strong applause rises from hundreds of hands for Giscard, who led the organisation of the event, it is now time for individuals to gather around food and music, at the counter, in the halls, outside the building to emulate.

This is the second channel through which Africa Futures hopes to make a difference: one-on-one tips and advice, in the wake of delivery of information. Time for information and personal testimonies to settle in and generate more conversations.

As one walks around Kinning Park, they may think the area is becoming busy as noises arise from behind the wall of the community centre. It has in fact been busy for about two hours. As one walks away, they may think that there is no human social activity in the area. They could not be more wrong.

ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES IN EDUCATION, WHICH RIGHTS?

A Right, but…  
Education is compulsory for children from 5 to 16. This includes children seeking asylum, who attend mainstream schools local to where they live under the same conditions, formally, as other children in their area.
However, destitution may affect their access to education. For instance, children on Section 4 support are not entitled to free school meals or other benefits and yet have no cash to pay for school meals  

Classification: Home vs. international students  
Asylum seekers are routinely classed as overseas students, and are thus liable to pay overseas student fees for university education of £8,500 to £29,000 per year, while not being allowed to work.
 
The barriers for adults in further and higher education are financial: high fees, lack of access to loans, no access to mainstream benefits or work. Indeed, the UK maintains different provisions for ‘home’ students and ‘overseas’ students for further and higher education.
 
In Scotland, the child of an asylum seeker or a young asylum seeker (under 25) is treated as a home student if they meet a set of residence conditions including 3 years residence in Scotland  

Under certain conditions asylum seekers are treated as home students for the purposes of further education.  

In England, this is the case for those aged 16 to 18, or who have been waiting for a Home Office decision for more than six months, or who are on Section 4 support or other statutory assistance.
 
In Wales those on asylum support are treated as home students.  

In Northern Ireland, asylum seekers and their families are treated as home students.

In Scotland, the conditions are as for higher education, and in addition full-time English courses for speakers of other languages and other part-time courses may be taken by asylum seekers as home students (not full time)

Source: http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/united-kingdom/reception-conditions/employment-and-education/access-education

For general/more information:

Immigration – No study ban for asylum seekers: https://righttoremain.org.uk/new-immigration-provisions-are-resulting-in-sudden-study-bans/

UCAS – New funding for asylum seekers and refugees https://www.ucas.com/finance/additional-funding/student-finance-refugees-and-asylum-seekers

Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) – https://www.saas.gov.uk/contact_us/phone.htm

New University scholarships for asylum seekers & refugees: http://www.star-network.org.uk/index.php/resources/access_to_university

Scholarship for Asylum seekers and refugees from Edinburgh University: https://www.ed.ac.uk/student-funding/tuition-fees/asylum/fees-sch

Asylum Seekers’ Scholarship from Strathclyde University: https://www.strath.ac.uk/studywithus/scholarships/asylumseekerscholarship/

“New report highlight “double discrimination” faced by BAME people with criminal record” – https://www.unlock.org.uk/new-report-double-discrimination/

“Ministry of Justice plans criminal reform” https://www.unlock.org.uk/unlock-comment-roajuly2019/


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