Members of the Leeds Migration Research Network have written an open letter to the university’s vice-chancellor (below).
The letter calls for the University to provide an effective response to the current international migrant crisis and highlights a series of priority areas. In particular it calls on the Vice Chancellor to:
• establish a set of scholarships for asylum seeking students,
• remove overseas charges for students in the asylum system.
• deliver the aims and objectives of the Access Agreement with special reference to refugees and asylum seekers.
• publicly support the Action for ESOL campaign and promote appropriate ESOL provision for adult migrants
• actively encourage and resource the building of links between University Faculties and Schools and refugees charities
OPEN LETTER FROM STAFF TO THE UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS
With this letter we call for the University to provide an effective response to the current international migrant crisis and highlight a series of priority areas where we expect the VC to follow up on his recent pledge. We are writing to you as a group of staff and students of the University of Leeds concerned and engaged at various levels through our research, educational and civic engagement with the plight suffered by the many migrants and people seeking asylum that are currently fleeing their countries affected by war and serious hardship. As demonstrated by the dramatic images arriving from the Southern and Eastern borders of Europe, the mass movement of migrants and refugees is far from seeing a solution in the short-term.
As you highlighted in your letter on the 17th of September, as an international institution with a population of staff and students coming from all around the world, we have a moral duty to take urgent and substantial action on this matter in a way that involves the different groups of members of this University.
We received extremely favorably your letter sent to all members of staff on the 17th of September 2015 where you detailed the series of activities that the University plans to or is engaging in, including collaboration with the City Council and the Student Union to welcome refugees and asylum seekers and facilitate their settlement in Leeds. We are thankful that the VC has helped to publicize and promote the many grass root volunteering initiatives and opportunities already ongoing to provide immediate support to new arrivals in Leeds.
However, after more than six weeks since the release of your letter we regret that we have not heard from you what activities have been followed up. We call for the senior management to start a discussion with academic staff and students in this University to explore ways in which the university can effectively provide short- and long-term assistance for refugees/asylum seekers. In particular we believe that urgent action should be taken in the following areas:
We were pleased to hear that the University has already in place a fund to support students that have been affected by catastrophic events in their home countries. You also wrote that in additions to the existing fund “we are examining ways in which we might provide a number of funded scholarships”.
We are concerned that until now we have not heard of any scholarship being released by the University of Leeds and consider this with embarrassment considering the proportionally little impact that such initiative would represent for a wealthy university like ours. The University of York offered a scholarship package of £500,000 to those escaping the humanitarian crisis. Other UK universities such as the University of East London have committed to offer at least ten postgraduate scholarships to Syrian refugees. We think that however symbolically one might interpret the provision of a limited amount of scholarships to meet the needs of the many bright students escaping their countries, such financial resources will make a real difference in the life of student refugees as well as that of their families. We thus call for the VC to establish a set of scholarships for asylum seeking students, ideally doubling the numbers of those offered by these other universities.
2 . Outreach and Access
The University can develop a more considered approach to how to reach out to the migrants and asylum seekers who are looking for educational opportunities. Action is necessary to promote the image of this University to reflect the spirit of your recent statement, namely, the desire ‘to recruit high quality students from diverse backgrounds and [to] provid[e] affordable access to higher education for all who can benefit’.
Our work as researchers engaging with civil society highlights that refugees and people seeking asylum find many hurdles in accessing the University of Leeds. There are lower barriers of entry to other institutions in our area such as Leeds Beckett, Bradford and Huddersfield. We are positive that the University of Leeds can take action to reverse this and promote itself as a ‘University of by taking more substantive action to facilitate access to asylum seekers and migrants from disadvantaged backgrounds. We call on the VC to remove overseas charges for students in the asylum system.
3. Widening Participation
The University already has some structures in place and policy priorities that offer an avenue to expand the basis for welcoming refugees and migrants in our institution. For instance the Access Agreement’s core programme of outreach states ‘a key element in our strategy to widen participation is our suite of Extended Degree Programmes which include a foundation year. These are designed for applicants of all ages who do not have the required entry tariff but demonstrate the potential to succeed’ (p. 22).
In the institutional Equality and Inclusion Strategy the Equality Mission for Leeds highlights that ‘one of the four priority areas is to ensure we successfully embed equality into all aspects of University business. Priority 4: ‘Ensure a world class student experience through inclusion and academic excellence’ addresses fair and equal access to recruitment, attainment and progression opportunities and highlights the importance of integrating the diverse needs of a diverse student population into the governance and practice of student education. (p. 22) The Access Agreement seems to contain the basis for expanding opportunities for asylum seekers, who are not only escaping war and persecution but are often also among those in our communities facing harsh economic conditions. The Life Long Learning Centre, Communities Work and Educational Engagement seem to be very well placed to help in this endeavour. We thus call on the VC to deliver the aims and objectives of the Access Agreement with special reference to refugees and asylum seekers.
4. Collaboration with CSOs’ and ESOL provision
We would like to see the VC supporting initiatives to improve access and provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages classes across Leeds, for instance working with the Leeds Migrant English Support Hub to enable outreach work. While a series of high profile volunteering activities have been organized by the students (and especially STAR) are well established.We believe that the University has a moral duty to support those affected by cuts in the existing ESOL provisions. We call on the VC to publicly support the Action for ESOL campaign and promote appropriate ESOL provision for adult migrants including those who aspire to higher education.
In order to increase awareness and engagement for current students on the significance of the current crisis and challenges of providing a ‘welcome’ to refugees beyond the initial days of arrival, we believe the University should promote collaboration with organizations in civil society. We call on the VC to actively encourage and resource the building of links between University Faculties and Schools and refugees charities, for example, by promoting work placements for their students within these organisations (some of which you have included in your letter such as Leeds Asylum Seeker Support Network, Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers, St Vincent de Paul Society, The Northern Refugee Centre, Leeds Refugee Forum).
6. Finally we think that it would be a significant gesture by this University to make available one of the large lecture theatres on campus to host the 3rd meeting of the Leeds City of Sanctuary
We believe this is a momentous opportunity for the University of Leeds to demonstrate concrete action, generosity and decisive leadership on one of the most dramatic issues of our time.
We look forward to hearing from you
Members of the Leeds Migration Research Network:
Dr Gabriella Alberti (LUBS)
Dr Mette Wiggen (School of Politics and International Studies)
Professor Chris Forde (LUBS)
Professor Robert MacKenzie (LUBS)
Dr Louise Waite (Geography)
Professor Mike Baynham (School of Education)
Dr James Souter (POLIS)
Meenkashi Sakar (LUBS)
Dr James Simpson (School of Education)