The University of Edinburgh has become the first institution to renew its status as a University of Sanctuary, reaffirming a commitment to creating a culture of inclusivity and awareness, for those seeking sanctuary, on campus and within the city.
By Nic Cameron
Since becoming the first institution to earn the status in 2017, the University has continued to develop a safe environment in which both staff and student communities have sought to learn from and support sanctuary seekers
What makes a University of Sanctuary?
Universities of Sanctuary must put measures in place to enable the learning of what it means for others to seek sanctuary, both generally and within a higher education context. They must take positive action to widely and sustainably embed the key concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion across their institution and should share their vision, achievements, and good practice within the community and beyond.
How does The University embody these principles?
Principal Peter Mathieson shares the experience that a scholar at the University shared with him.
“I tend to think of universities like Edinburgh as places of world-leading research, international modern education, civic and societal responsibility and above all a community of scholars seeking to make the world a better place. The concept of a university of sanctuary builds on and adds to the role that we can play. This was exemplified recently for me by a thank you message I received from a recent graduate at our University as he completed his seven years with us. He was awarded a scholarship to an MSc degree in 2013 which allowed him and his then-pregnant wife to leave the war-torn city in which they lived, to move to Edinburgh and to study for the degrees for which he so obviously had the ability and the desire. He described the scholarship as “a lifeline”. With hard work, he completed his MSc, followed up with a PhD, along with multiple publications and is now launching on an academic career. I shared his message with my senior team, remarking that “this is why we bother”. Providing opportunity to people whose life chances have been impaired by events beyond their control, offering them safety and sanctuary in troubled times, transforming lives. Well done all."
Peter Mathieson, Principal, The University of Edinburgh
We continue to build on our institutional culture of sanctuary and encourage initiatives at all levels of our organisational structure.
Supporting and learning from charities and networks like the Council for At Risk Academics (Cara)
In 2018, the role of Cara Scotland Manager was formed and funded by the University of Edinburgh with the aim to manage Cara’s partnerships and engagement across Scotland’s higher education and research communities. This has allowed us to create new networks of support on a national scale and to support other universities seeking to achieve University of Sanctuary status.
Sharing knowledge through the Refugee, Asylum and At Risk Advisory Group
In the same year, we established the Refugee, Asylum and At Risk Advisory Group to unite staff and students from across the University and to encourage others to act. The group represents students, professional services, and academic staff.
Edinburgh Global, the University’s international department, worked with members of the Advisory Group to produce an online resource to clarify terminology, share important information and encourage participation in events with a focus on Refugees, Asylum and At-Risk Scholars.
Gün Orgun, Scotland Coordinator, City of Sanctuary said: “The powerhouse behind this initiative, the University's Refugee Advisory Network, relies on the energy and commitment of passionate individuals across the campus, and the newly-updated web page is a fantastic showcase for the breadth and depth of activities that make the University of Edinburgh an exceptionally welcoming environment for people seeking sanctuary. Collaboration with colleagues at Edinburgh Global over the last year and a half has been key to spreading the word about Universities of Sanctuary across the Scottish Higher Education sector. We look forward to working together to strengthen this growing network of colleagues and institutions to improve refugees' engagement with higher education in Scotland."
Creating opportunity for those who need it most through Scholarships
Our efforts are not solely focused on raising the profile and creating support networks for academics seeking sanctuary. The University of Edinburgh has pledged to provide fully-funded undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for students who are seeking asylum. In addition, the University will also fund further assistance, such as language support, for students who are seeking asylum, refugees or have humanitarian protection status.
Addressing the emotional needs of young people seeking sanctuary through the Chaplaincy
The University’s Chaplaincy and Students from Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and the University’s Islamic Society established the Syrian Teenagers Tutoring and Education Programme (STTEPS). Through this programme, Edinburgh students hold sessions with Syrian teenagers throughout the year to ease their integration into a new and, at times, challenging environment.
Both the Chaplaincy and Sport and Exercise have also continued to provide the Syrian Refugee Project free access to its sports hall at weekends.
“I was a refugee. In Syria I was imprisoned and tortured by the regime. When I came to Scotland in 2011, the University helped me a lot. I’ve always felt grateful and I wanted to help other Syrian refugees in Edinburgh. No words are enough to thank the University for facilitating the initiative. I feel proud that we have been able to do something that benefits these teenagers.”
Dr Amer Masri, Co-founder, Syrian Teenagers Tutoring and Education Programme
How will the University do more for those in need of sanctuary in the future?
Although we have been recognised for the excellent work so far and ongoing projects, there is a shared ambition of our staff and students to continue to expand support for those who need it most.
Nick Rowland – Interim Chair of the Refugee Advisory Group and Regional Director – Africa said: “While we recognise the hard work of many and are delighted to be re-awarded a University of Sanctuary, we also know there is lots more to do. The University of Edinburgh is a big institution, with a lot of inspiring activity taking place across the board. The Refugee Advisory Group has allowed us to pull much of this motivation together – often by people going above and beyond their normal roles. We realise, now more than ever, how important our collective support of those seeking sanctuary is and how this also fits to the University’s 2030 Strategy which is committed to diversity, equality and inclusion, and to offer opportunities to people from all around the world.”
Providing opportunity to refugee students through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars’ Program
One of the strategic goals of the Mastercard Foundation Scholar’s Program is to commit 25% of all scholarships to refugees and displaced youth by 2023. They will complement these scholarships with work to support ongoing development and investing in bridging programmes.
Collaborating with other institutions to share our expertise at the UKCISA conference
In 2021 the Global Community Team within Edinburgh Global will collaborate with the University of Bristol to present at the UK Council for International Student Affairs conference. The theme of this presentation will be “University of Sanctuary or Sanctions? Institutionalising support for refugees, asylum seekers and at-risk scholars whilst managing immigration compliance risks”.
Continue to raise awareness of and encourage a joined-up approach to all sanctuary work
We will continue to expand our partnerships internally and externally. We will ensure that all communities at the University are encouraged to act on the principles of welcome, safety and inclusion. We will continue to enhance our leading role as a University of Sanctuary to support other institutions and work collaboratively.