One of the major barriers to education, particularly for asylum seekers in the UK, is affordability. Unlike refugees, they are not usually eligible for student loans and must pay international tuition fees, making scholarships all the
Doctoral researcher Isabelle Schafer from our Department of Social and Policy Sciences is examining the role universities play in the integration of forced migrants. “There’s quite a lot of research on the barriers to higher education but a lot less has been done on what happens while they are studying,” Isabelle explains. “What are the experiences of forced migrants in higher education? How are universities organised to support them during their studies?”
“I think many asylum seekers find themselves in limbo,” she adds. “They’re not normally allowed to work and if education is not an option for financial reasons, it must be very frustrating. They might have all the energy and capacity to study and develop their skills but they can’t do it because they don't have the money. This means that scholarships are absolutely crucial for them.”
The student society STAR (Student Action for Refugees), a Bath branch of the national charity, aims to support refugees and asylum seekers in the local community by volunteering to help refugee children with their homework and organising social and fundraising events.
It was through the STAR network that Mohammad Seddiqian discovered the Sanctuary Scholarship at Bath. Originally supported by the Alumni Fund, this offers two scholarships for postgraduate master’s programme students who are seeking asylum in the UK, waiving the cost of tuition and providing a £15,000 bursary to help with course-related and living costs.
“Scholarships like this provide access to education, which is so important to me,” he says. “I feel like it’s the only thing I’ve got in my life.”
Mohammad always enjoyed school but his education was cut short by the Taliban regime. “There weren’t any teachers and the subjects changed – we didn’t have literature or science, just religious text books,” he explains. “They stopped other things too; hospitals didn’t have enough medication, the economy was bad and people were really struggling.
"One night I remember hearing lots of explosions and firing. We went to a basement where we used to keep cattle on our farm and took refuge for a night or two. When it was over my father went to the city to find out what had happened. He said there were people lying dead in the streets. We left for Iran after that and it was good, for a time.”
As Afghan citizens, Mohammad’s family weren’t allowed to work or buy a house or a vehicle, or even a sim card for a phone, he says. “But my parents were happy that at least we got an education. As farmers, my father and I didn’t have the same skills as people in the city so I was relying on education so much. When I heard the news that the Iranian government [under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] had banned Afghan students from going to university, I was so upset.”
It has now been nine years since he left Iran in search of a safe place to live and he’s still awaiting a decision from the UK Home Office. The Sanctuary Scholarship means that he can study for an MSc in Medical Biosciences and focus on the future. “I would like to do a PhD in cancer research after I finish my Master’s and the Sanctuary Scholarship puts me a step closer to achieving my dreams,” he says.
“I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity. I would like to be in a position in future where I can support scholarships like this one; they give people like me so much hope.”