Universities and the Refugee Crisis

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you will undoubtedly be aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. What you may be less aware of, however, is that universities have been participating in the effort to help the situation.

Approximately nine million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. Despite popular misconceptions, only 150,000 of those have sought asylum in the European Union (with 85% of those residing in Germany). Yet just because the UK is not as directly affected as other countries, it does not mean that we should sit back and do nothing. Universities – typically hotbeds of political activism and the like – have got involved with the effort to aid the crisis. Yet should they be doing more?

Several UK institutions are now offering scholarships to refugee students in order to allow them to study without the impossible financial pressures they would face unaided. Among these universities are Russell Group stalwarts Warwick, York and Edinburgh. The University of Sussex, in particular, is doing its best to aid refugees who possess the necessary skills for higher education. The Sussex Refugee Scholarship is funding English language courses for 50 Syrian refugees, in addition to paying them £100 a week living costs, in order to ease their transition into their chosen degree at a UK university.

Although these initiatives are of course extremely positive, there are calls for all universities to act. An online petition, backed by charity Citizens UK and the Campaign for the Public University, is encouraging a sector-wide movement to offer more opportunities to refugees. The petition has currently got around 600 signatures. Obtaining a degree would hopefully, of course, increase the income and therefore quality of life of the refugees.

“There are calls for all universities to act”

Universities’ efforts are not just limited to offering scholarships and the like. Here at the University of Nottingham, the society STAR (Student Action for Refugees) works with the Red Cross to teach refugees English. Although not directly associated with the current crisis, it still allows refugees to improve their communication with native English speakers. There are also more directly related efforts, e.g. Liverpool Hope University is working with local organisations to raise money to transport clothing, tents etc. to the refugees stuck in Calais.

Yet whether universities are doing enough to help the crisis is a question that remains unanswered. Students are typically very likely to get involved with fundraising (just look at the popularity of Karnival for proof of that), so if more fundraising events were to take place, the likelihood is that students would be keen to do their bit. In addition, the influence that academics and even other students have over each other could lead to a spread of awareness about the facts of the crisis, and help to dispel myths. Universities aside, the families who have had to flee their war-torn country deserve all the help we can give them, students or not.

Rachel Harrison

Image: Thomas Rossi Rassloff via Flickr

Information from The Guardian, syrianrefugees.eu and the University of Sussex

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