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Article 26 Sanctuary Scholars and Awards Conference 29 August 2018

“I have been given a journey and opportunities to realise my potential. Today I am not just an asylum seeker. I am a qualified social worker ready to help make the world a better place.” These words were spoken at a recent awards conference and ceremony, by a Sanctuary Scholar who has just completed a first degree with the support of a Sanctuary Scholarship Awards grant. She went on to say that what matters is not your grade but being involved in the process of higher education. Aged around twenty five the speaker addressed us with joy and hope, and was an inspiration. The conference, under the title Article 26, was held in Kings College London and celebrated the work of Sanctuary Scholars and Sanctuary Scholarship. It especially addressed widening access and participation of refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the UK who are underrepresented in higher education. 

Sanctuary Scholarships and Awards are the initiative of Article 26, a project aimed at supporting students who have sought sanctuary in the UK to access and succeed in Higher Education. The Article 26 project came into existence ten years ago, and has grown to meet the needs of students and universities in an increasingly challenging social and political landscape. It is hosted by the Helena Kennedy Foundation. Article 26 has been a catalyst for many things to happen and created new opportunities in higher education. It supports students who do not have access to student finance because of their immigration status, and universities to deliver scholarships to such students wanting to access their programmes. The Article 26 conference was joined by many students who have benefitted and who spoke with enthusiasm and passion as graduates.

There are difficult issues around getting into higher education while your immigration status is unresolved and as a refugee. It is not easy for young people who are “strangers” to processes for getting into higher education. There are complex and ever changing legal frameworks to understand. Added to this is the “hostile environment” culture which is meant to be a deterrent to people seeking sanctuary in the UK, and it also turns Universities into border control agents.  

The instigator of Article 26 is the Rev Dr Nicholas Sagovsky who has held the positions of Canon Theologian and Sub Dean of Westminster Abbey. He was a member of the Independent Commission on Asylum [2008] and has written extensively about Christianity and the practice of social justice. If Dr Sagovsky has been the vision behind Article 26, the energy has come from Dr Rebecca Murray who has just completed a Phd with Sheffield University centred on the mapping of Sanctuary Scholarships in Universities throughout the UK, assessing the impact of Sanctuary Scholarships and funding arrangements, and making recommendations for future practice to deliver Sanctuary Scholarship schemes. Dr Murray’s research was part funded by the MB Reckitt Trust committed to research for social justice based programmes, and I attended the Article 26 conference on behalf of the trustees.

The conference heard a presentation on Universities of Sanctuary which work with City of Sanctuary processes to ensure there is learning about the situations facing refugees and those seeking sanctuary, embedding of cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety throughout university processes, and sharing their learning and practice with local communities and other universities.  

The Article 26 conference recommended that every University should establish Sanctuary Scholarships and have a Sanctuary Ambassador as a point of contact, and should give careful attention to the recruitment, admission and financial needs of refugee students to ensure access, safety and stress free processes. It was also recommended that Article 26 and Sanctuary Scholarships be incorporated into Universities of Sanctuary within the City of Sanctuary movement. 

Education should be available to all people. “Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”, so states Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This is at the root of the organisation now also called Article 26. The strong level of participation by Universities in the Article 26 conference and ceremony shows that there is a collective desire and goodwill among them to welcome and include refugees. Sanctuary Scholarship should be a priority for every University. There are now over 20 Universities of Sanctuary committed to pioneering cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for students who are seeking sanctuary in the UK. We can all engage with our local Universities and enquire about their inclusion of refugees in degree programmes, and their Sanctuary Scholarships. The recruitment and inclusion of international students should include refugees and those who are seeking sanctuary in the UK.

 Inderjit Bhogal

September 2018