THE BLOG

Universities Must Act Now And Provide Refugee Scholarships

19/12/2016 16:22 GMT | Updated 19/12/2016 16:23 GMT
Michaela Rehle / Reuters

As the ashen remains of Aleppo are evacuated and the refugee crisis continues to spiral out of control, over 21 million people have become refugees, half of which are children. These children have lost everything and witnessed atrocities that most couldn't bare. Their homes, their families and the lives they once knew are gone. In the last year videos of silent bloodied children being dragged from rubble have gone viral with the same message repeated: the children of Aleppo have stopped crying. These children have lost everything, and that now includes their education.

For those who survive and make it to their next birthday, they do so with their opportunities for a better future slashed. As they are strategically moved like pawns on a chess board, in game played by the leaders they will never meet, their chance to go out into the world of higher education crumbles.

That's why now more than ever, universities need to wake up, stop ignoring their moral imperative and act.

An education is not a piece of paper that you get as you Instagram a photo of yourself in a cap and gown. Education is a doorway to a better future. It can help you find the voice to fight, open the the eyes of those who have never seen beyond their front door and break the cycle of poverty. Education is knowledge and that can change everything.

While we and they may have forgotten this, universities are education providers before they are anything else. Or at least they should be. They should feel their moral imperative to teach, to expand the minds of the next generation, helping to fight for a brighter tomorrow, where educated decisions lead to better governments and the Trumps of the world are laughed out of power.

Although many universities state that they provide refugee scholarships, digging a little deeper exposes that they are nothing more than a show, a few hundred pounds, a token of goodwill that won't even pay a months rent.

However this is not to say they are all a facade. Goldsmiths, University of Sheffield, Manchester Metropolitan, Kings College London and Exeter University all have worthwhile schemes, but five universities among the 150+ higher education providers in the UK? This is not acceptable.

Earlier this year, angered by her university's lack of support for refugees Thais Roque, an Oxford University scholarship student, took it upon herself to crowd-fund for students displaced by war or persecution. She raised over £240,000 through £1 a month pledges. But as students like Thais step forward and make change happen, where are their universities?

Last week Brunel University London joined the ranks, as they announced one of the largest refugee scholarship schemes in the UK. Starting in January 2017, they will provide tuition fee waivers and accommodation support to six successful candidates. They have also pledged to give free english language courses to any refugees in the local community, as a way of breaking down the barriers and helping those who have lost everything start again.

President of the Union of Brunel Students Ali Milani, who fought for the programme, called the scheme a "small step towards action being taken" at a time when the situation in Aleppo has reached "breaking point".

He believes that as "universities and the student movement have always been at the forefront of fighting for a better world" they should and must "act now more than ever."

So as students let us say: now is the time to push your university in the right direction. Stand up and shout, demand that they stop ignoring the world around them and do what they know is right.

And to vice chancellors and academics: the 11million children need you to step forward and fight for change.

A scholarship to study may not seem earth shattering, but it transforms the world of that one student. Every small act is a sign of solidarity, the chance to break from the label of 'refugee' and a push towards a world that we don't have to be ashamed of. 

Elisabeth Mahase is the Editor-in-Chief of Brunel University's Student Newspaper Le Nurb and the Media Chair at The Union of Brunel Students