Financial Support is not Enough! Barriers in Access to Higher Education of Refugee and Displaced Students: Lessons from the Experience of the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign

Strategies, Policies, and Directions for Refugee Education

ISBN: 978-1-78714-798-0, eISBN: 978-1-78714-797-3

ISSN: 2055-3641

Publication date: 16 November 2018


Although the right to education is consecrated by international agreements, UNHCR reports that only 1% of refugees attend university. Grass root campaigns have arisen as one way of helping refugee and displaced students to access universities. The Oxford Students Refugee Campaign (OxSRC), launched in October 2015, aimed to establish a student-financed scholarship fund within the University of Oxford. As a result of the first year of campaigning, more than 12,000 students have pledged to contribute to the fund at a ratio of one pound per month. This has enabled the creation of the Oxford Student Scholarships, for students whose education has been disrupted due to the humanitarian or political situation in their country of residence. This chapter aims to build on the experience of the OxSRC to draw valuable lessons for universities and campaign leaders in other places. First, a set of financial barriers hindering access to the application process itself are reviewed. Second, the various documentary barriers impacting students’ completion and submission of applications are analyzed. Finally, this chapter examines psycho-social barriers that impinge on refugee students’ preparations for their chosen programme of study.



Roque, T., Aiazzi, E., Smart, C., Topouzova, S. and Touzet, C. (2018), "Financial Support is not Enough! Barriers in Access to Higher Education of Refugee and Displaced Students: Lessons from the Experience of the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign", Sengupta, E. and Blessinger, P. (Ed.) Strategies, Policies, and Directions for Refugee Education (Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning, Vol. 13), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 219-234.

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Copyright © 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Despite limitations to reliable data collection in situations of displacement, UNHCR (2016) estimates that only 1% of refugees attend university, compared to a global average of 34%.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA, 2014) reports that attacks on higher education institutions are not restricted to any territory or discipline, and in 2014 they occurred in 28 out of 30 monitored countries.

Political and humanitarian crises disrupting higher education is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Yet, the recent increase in the number of people displaced at a global level (UNESCO, 2009), together with the tragedy of the Syrian war and its devastating effects on the educational path of a population that had 25% of its eligible youth enrolled in tertiary institutions (World Bank, 2015) have brought a renewed attention to the issue of access to higher education for displaced individuals, as well as those fearing attacks against their universities.

The issue of the provision of higher education in emergencies is quickly growing as a topic of research. A few key questions emerge from this academic discourse, around the challenge of recognition of refugees’ previous educational achievements (UNESCO, 2009; iie, 2016), the role of online learning (GEM Report (2016);, the key importance of higher education as a way to strengthen hopes for the future (Promising Practices in Refugee Education; 2017; INEE, 2017) and the contribution that educated individuals will make toward post-conflict reconstruction and in their host countries (Milton & Barakat, 2016).

While international donors had traditionally been more focused on responding to immediate needs – for example, food, shelter, and medication –and thus overlooking education, the provision of education for refugees is now an increasingly important part of their agendas (see, e.g., the launch of Education Cannot Wait at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 ( Although projects in favor of primary education still largely trump those dedicated to higher education (Promising Practices in Refugee Education, 2017) in emergency situations, a wide array of public and private initiatives have flourished, which aim to improve access to higher education or to develop alternatives to traditional learning, for example, through online learning (;

Table 1 shows some examples of scholarships initiatives, many of which focus on Syrian students. Columns indicate the institutional provenance of the scholarships (e.g., civil society, government, university, private sector or international organization), while rows indicate the residence rules for eligibility and whether the scholarship is tied to studying in a particular place or not. Indeed, scholarships for refugees and displaced students can be offered in the student’s current host country or in a different country. This latter distinction is relevant because both solutions entail different visa requirements. As the provision of scholarships from high income countries to students from low income countries – many of whom are host to a significant number of refugees – is encouraged by the Sustainable Development Goal 4.B (United Nations, 2017), expectations are that the second type of scholarships (involving student from low-income countries to be educated in medium and high income ones) is more likely to develop.

Table 1.

Examples of Scholarship Initiatives.

Civil Society or International Organizations Government Universities or Private Sector Partnering with Universities
Limited to students already living in the country; source of funding is local SOAS Sanctuary Scholarships for undergraduate, Master and research students. SOAS student and alumni community fundraised to support scholars with living expenses, and not only tuition fees. Scholarships offered by the Italian government to students granted international protection status in Italy. The University of Edinburgh reduces asylum seekers’ fees from international to home fees. It also offers scholarships to asylum seekers for Bachelor and Master’s degrees.
GogoCharters scholarships for immigrants and refugees in the USA.
Not tied to the condition of already living in the country where education opportunity is offered Habesha project, aims to offer scholarships to Syrian students in Mexican universities. DAAD’s Leadership for Syria program offers scholarships to Syrian refugees to study in Germany. IIE’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis is a network of colleges and universities providing scholarships to Syrian refugees.
Kiron University, a German organization that provides online courses for the first two years of Bachelor degrees, after which students enroll at a partner institution.
Education opportunity is in countries where students are already living, but source of funding comes from a third country Through the DAFI program, sponsored by the German government, UNHCR awards scholarships for refugees to study higher education in countries of asylum. HOPES (Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians). Funded by the EU’s Madad Fund, provides scholarships to study in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt for displaced Syrian youth. MasterCard Foundation, within its MasterCard Foundation Scholars program, partnered with the American University of Beirut to offer scholarships to disadvantaged Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Among these initiatives, the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign (OxSRC) is a civil society-driven initiative that targets students whose education has been disrupted because of political or humanitarian crises. It is open to students who either already live in the UK or anywhere else in the world at the time of applying, provided that they are accepted in a program at the University of Oxford.

This chapter aims to present the history of the Campaign throughout its identification of various barriers and obstacles to be overcome and lessons learnt in terms of how to achieve that. It highlights the importance for initiatives fostering higher education for displaced students to go beyond the provision of financial help. Such initiatives should make sure that the application process and enrolment are accessible despite economic, social, and legal barriers; and that they are adaptable to the specific circumstances of students living in war-torn countries or in situations of legal and socio-economic vulnerability. The chapter concludes by presenting the current outcomes of the Campaign, and reflecting on how a similar approach could be followed at other higher education institutions.

The Oxford Students Refugee Campaign: History, Aims and Philosophy

As the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded across headlines over the summer of 2015, a group of students at the Oxford University launched the OxSRC as a means by which the community of students could do the bit to help young people fleeing war and persecution have access to the same educational opportunities available to others.

As a first step, OxSRC approached members of the University’s administration to understand how the University was planning on reacting to the current crisis. Although the University was working to offer places to at-risk academics forced to leave their homeland, it was excluding the biggest part of the refugee academic population, namely the students.

Because there was no data available on whether refugee or at-risk students were applying to the University, the Campaign’s first challenge was to prove that there was a demand for such a scholarship scheme to be offered at the University of Oxford, as there was a risk that lack of applicants might be considered as lack of demand for this kind of scholarship. OxSRC needed to probe deeper to see whether any barriers (and if, so, which ones) were keeping hundreds of refugee students in excellent academic standing from even applying to Oxford.

To explore this, OxSRC needed to advertise the scholarships, for which the Campaign did not have the funds. To overcome this challenge OxSRC decided to fundraise through the student body (around 23,000 students). The idea was to get every student to pledge to contribute £1 a month to fund such a scholarship program: this is a small payment individually, but if every student in Oxford did this, this would generate enough fund to take the program off the ground.

What started with a few students reacting to the Syrian crisis, soon became a student-led Campaign supported by over 12,000 students at Oxford, enabling the creation of the Oxford Student Scholarships for students whose education has been disrupted due to war, natural disasters; or the political, or humanitarian situation in their country of residence.

To encourage applications, OxSRC led an outreach effort through contacting organizations and educational institutions working in conflict-struck areas. OxSRC worked with a number of local, national, and international organizations, such as CitizensUK, the Article 26 project, Student Action for Refugees, National Union of Students, UNHCR, Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, and Josoor, to name a few.

The Campaign soon received many emails from young people desperate to continue their higher education and pursue what some of them called their “last chance.” Students displaced in places like Lebanon, Turkey, France, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and New Zealand shared their stories of hardship and perseverance.

Access to the scholarships was conditional on the securing of a place at the University of Oxford but not limited to any country of origin or course. OxSRC wanted the eligibility criteria to be as wide as possible, to be able to help a maximum of students. Although the main focus was initially on refugees, it soon became apparent that while perhaps a majority of the applicants were refugees, many others without refugee status remained in dire need of education.

Therefore, additionally to students with a refugee status, students residing in the UK under asylum seeker status, discretionary leave status or humanitarian protection status could also apply. So did students residing in their country of origin, if their pursuit of education was hindered because of political and/or humanitarian crisis, and students residing in a third country as a result of political and/or humanitarian crisis in their country of origin. The only legal restriction for those residing abroad was the possession of a valid travel document, allowing them to apply for a Tier 4 student visa in the UK.

OxSRC thus adopted the term “at-risk student” to refer to the applicants. This term attempted to encapsulate as many potential scenarios in which individuals would be denied the possibility to pursue their education because of the risks they faced – whether these were due to natural disasters, humanitarian or political crises, or any other adverse circumstances. OxSRC followed the same logic in defining the three primary criteria to distinguish between applicants: first the Campaign assessed the severity of barriers to pursuing higher education, then it took into account varying financial needs, and finally it used the quality of students’ personal statements as the third selection criterion.

Having not been in such situations themselves, OxSRC committee members have no intention to speak of the issues faced by at-risk students with any degree of authority. This is why the “memorandum of understanding” specifies that attribution of the scholarships should be decided upon by an expert panel. This would allow addressing each individual situation as a specific case, rather than using complex criteria which might alienate certain at-risk candidates whose situations OxSRC would not be able to foresee.

Over the course of the Campaign’s history, OxSRC was able to identify different categories of barriers faced by potential applicants through collecting and analyzing data gained via communication with potential applicants. These barriers and the strategies developed to overcome them will be presented in more detail in the following sections.

Understanding the Diversity of Barriers Faced by Applicants

Financial Issues

In almost every case encountered by the Campaign, financial barriers formed a significant and often the primary barrier in access to higher education for displaced and at-risk students. The prohibitive cost of higher education, enough of an access issue for regular students in the UK, was and remains greatly exacerbated in the context of those at risk and international students who OxSRC primarily dealt with.

The vast majority of applicants, and all those who were successful in securing a place, were postgraduate intakes. Oxford’s postgraduate programs generally cost almost twice or more than the national average of £11,000 (; this cost is then coupled with an estimated average living cost of between £12,028 and £17,649 ( as recommended by the University, thus an average domestic postgraduate one-year course would cost an applicant in excess of £30,000.

In addition, applicants from third countries would have to pay international fees. And under British law, even asylum-seeking students, regardless of how long they have been in the British education system up to a secondary and further level, are considered international students when applying for university.

Following their international status, displaced students applying from outside or within the UK are denied access to government or private loans. ( The Home office financial support for asylum seekers is set at 50–64% of the support provided to an individual on welfare benefits (p. 18). In effect, this situation represents a complete barrier to higher education, there being no basis on which an asylum seeker allowance could support any level of tertiary education.

It should also be stressed that the problem does not end with tuition fees, or cost of living expenditures. For such students, financial issues represent an often-insurmountable barrier even in relatively low-cost areas of expenditures; the cost of travel to take a test or of an application fee were all considerable barriers for many of the students whom OxSRC sought to help.

Hurdles beyond Finances: Documentary Barriers to Access

It soon began apparent that financial issues formed only one area of the barriers faced by applicants, and that ensuring a truly equal opportunity for at-risk students to access higher education at Oxford would require going beyond addressing student’s financial needs.

One of the first non-financial obstacles which applicants made us aware of was the difficulty of assembling the various documents required as part of the application process at Oxford. Namely, applicants are asked to provide copies of their previous diplomas and academic transcripts (and officially approved English translations where appropriate), as well as several letters of recommendation and test results (specific to the particular course they are applying for). Finally, a CV and a personal statement are also required.

Although these are relatively standard procedures, they proved to be sometimes insurmountable hurdles in the specific case of at-risk applicants, owing to their particular circumstances. Most applicants who reached out to OxSRC on this issue were representative of one of the following two situations; they could either not produce existing documents, or they could not obtain the new documents asked of them. Many applicants had been forced to flee their homes in a hurry, and simply did not have their transcripts and former diplomas with them. Neither could they request those transcripts from their previous schools, which very often were no longer functioning. Official translations were also problematic from both a financial and practical perspective. The issue of insufficient documentary evidence has been acknowledged as important to guarantee fair educational opportunities to refugees within the European Union, as showed by efforts to include provisions regarding refugees in the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region and the development of new tools for recognition of refugees qualifications (Bergan & Skjerven, 2017).

Collecting academic recommendations also proved very problematic, as frequently it was near impossible for at-risk students to contact former professors after they had relocated. Test results, and in particular language test results, 1 such as the IELTS and the TOEFL, a requirement for non-native speaker applicants, made up a large part of the problems that the Campaign had to confront. Indeed, these tests cannot be taken entirely remotely: applicants have to physically access a dedicated test center. In many cases, travelling to the nearest test center was not only financially challenging, but would present serious risks to the personal safety of applicants, as they would have to travel through unstable regions. In some cases, this was simply impossible due to visa restrictions, as it involved border crossing.

A major difficulty encountered by undergraduate students in the course of the Campaign echoes the point about recognition mentioned in the introduction. Indeed, only a few selective high school diplomas, mostly delivered by European or North American countries, are accepted as valid proof of secondary education to apply to the University of Oxford (, and this policy turns into an institutional barrier which often signals the end of the road for the applicants.

Finally, the perspective, in the event of a successful application, of having to face a complicated and cumbersome visa application procedure, with an uncertain outcome, was another source of anxiety for applicants, many of whom felt unsure about whether they would be able to gather the necessary documentation in a timely manner.

Psycho-social Barriers that Refugee Students Face in Accessing Higher Education in the United Kingdom

When applying to higher education programs, at-risk applicants encounter numerous challenges to prepare intricate applications. In this section, using the case of at-risk students who prepared applications to the University of Oxford and divulged specific tasks that they undertook during their preparations, OxSRC would like to demonstrate how access to information can be more difficult for students on low resources such as at-risk applicants.

From the outset, the applicants that the Campaign worked with noted that the program application forms were only available online and only accessible during specific periods of time.

Furthermore, each Department, Faculty, and Division stipulates for its programs specific requirements according to which applicants must adhere. As such, the applicants had to navigate through the general University application form and in the process, take into account the specific requirements outlined by the Department, Faculty, or Division to which they were applying. This necessitates a stable and reliable Internet access, as well as a good command and understanding of the intricate system mixing Departments, Colleges, and Division rules at the University of Oxford.

All students applying for post-graduate programs at the University of Oxford have to submit a statement of intent, outlining a substantive and meaningful interest in the program for which they are applying. The overarching requirements that apply to all applicants are to demonstrate a sustained interest, relevant experiences, and future aspirations in applying.

One of the applicants, a male graduate from Syria, who previously studied law, sought to demonstrate a sustained commitment to international human rights law through his democratic activism in Syria. As he disclosed, however, a significant component of his motivation to study international human rights law was informed by the experience of observing his older brother undergo prolonged detention and torture for his own human rights activism. His brother had been detained on numerous occasions and not released in the last instance. As such, the applicant’s statement of intent reflected both his professional interest in the study of international human rights law, as well as his experiences of observing his brother. After preparing the statement of intent, the applicant shared a concern that he could not neatly illustrate nor factually substantiate the forms of torture that his brother was subjected to.

This challenge to presenting a neatly scripted, consistent narrative is extensively explored within scholarly literature on refugee status determination procedures. More specifically, a body of scholarly literature on refugee status determination interviews demonstrates that “consistency” is a malleable, socially constructed concept that cannot be ascertained with full certainty. Kagan argues that even within core international refugee legal instruments, including the U.N. Refugee Convention, it is recognized that asylum-seekers cannot be expected to fully produce a “consistent” narrative of complex, intricate accounts of trauma (Kagan, 2003). While Rousseau, Crépeau, Foxen, and Houle (2002) argue that if a narrative is “too consistent,” or linearly scripted, it could arouse suspicions of being inauthentic. This means that in the literature, there is doubly a recognition that the consistency of a narrative can never be ascertained with complete certainty and that its determination is a subjective rendering of the examining authority.

Students applying for post-graduate programs are also required to indicate which program stream they seek to enroll in. As there are distinctions between the research methodologies employed in Master of Science, Master of Philosophy, and Master of Studies degrees, applicants face challenges in accessing specific program information that would allow them to understand which stream is most compatible with their educational background.

One applicant, a female graduate from Syria, sought to apply for a program in the field of archaeology and had to first ascertain which program stream to enter into: Archaeology, Classical Archaeology, or Archaeological Science. She found that each program offered a distinct methodological approach, distinct course selection, and an array of teaching staff. She further noted that each program stipulated specific requirements for the overall dissertation that the applicant would have to submit at the culmination of the program. As such, she deliberated which program was most compatible with her previous educational experiences at the University of Damascus, as the disciplinary divisions reflected within the University of Oxford Department of Archaeology did not reflect the disciplinary divisions according to which she was taught at the University of Damascus.

This example demonstrates how at-risk students are even more affected by this lack in clarity and program information than other students. They come from very different education systems, and often do not have the networks and resources (e.g., time, internet access, finances) needed to fully investigate the program and grasp the subtleties pertaining to a different cultural and educational context.

Overcoming Barriers: Lessons from the OxSRC Experience

Solutions to Financial Barriers

To directly address financial barriers, OxSRC explored two directives. The first and most significant directive was the active raising of funding through the student body, in order to directly aid at-risk students in the short and medium term. The secondary directive was a lobbying strategy intended to incorporate the Campaign into the main body of the University as a scholarship endowed by alumni funding drives.

The first directive was made considerably easier by using existing fundraising systems within the University and Colleges. The use of an add-on donation, agreed by each “common room” (a division of undergraduate or junior and graduate or senior students in each college) to be “opt out,” therefore paid automatically by each member of the common room unless otherwise specified, represented the most pragmatic and fruitful method of fundraising available.

The secondary directive, a lobbying strategy through consistent and constructive dialogue with the University, enabled the basis for a long-term fund to be established. The discussion of the issues facing at-risk applicants with the admission officers, the Vice Chancellor and numerous collegiate and departmental officials enabled a huge sum of the cost of the first wave of scholars’ education to be waived. This outcome was a result of the constructive relationship with the University, in which dialogue and collaboration rather than protest and accusation took precedence.

Dialogue was also important to help the Campaign recognize that even prior to application at risks students already faced financial hardship. OxSRC often received emails from applicants who were not able to pay for their application fees (due to missing money or missing credit cards or even failing bank institutions in their current place of residence), and hence not able to apply. Given that the funds were primarily dedicated to cover course fees and living expenses, in order to pay for their application fees, OxSRC decided to experiment with crowdfunding. The Campaign was able to raise the amount needed to pay for the application fees of 10 of the applicants.

This success with crowdfunding encouraged the Campaign to run an emergency appeal once it knew how many at-risk students had got an offer, to attempt to fund a far larger number of scholars that the own funds raised through the student body would allow. This second experience proved considerable less successful than anticipated and served to only further reinforce the commitment to establishing a long-term fund through existing alumni donation pathways rather than through short-lived public appeals.

Solutions to Identified “Documentary” Barriers

To help at risk applicants solve the problems of missing application documents, the campaign worked closely with the University undergraduate and graduate admissions offices. Indeed, as they are the active link between applicants and departments, they are in the best position to facilitate communication between all stakeholders.

The privileged relationship with staff in both the undergraduate admissions and graduate admissions offices proved helpful in two ways. First, it allowed the Campaign to act as a bridge between the applicants and the University: OxSRC would relay particular cases to the administration, highlighting the challenges that applicants were facing in filing their application. The Campaign was able to present its objectives and challenges to a large audience of administrators at an internal University seminar. This was a great opportunity to increase awareness of the specific issues faced by at-risk students within the University.

Beyond admissions offices, members of OxSRC aimed to attend as many meetings as possible with various University staff as part of its cooperative strategy. The logic was that the more the University staff – including administrative officers, professors and tutors – knew about these issues, the higher the chance to support the applicants would be successful.

Second, working closely with the University undergraduate and graduate admissions offices also allowed the Campaign to act as a reliable and responsive source of information for the prospective students who contacted it. OxSRC was able to establish clearly what the official rules are regarding the documents needed to apply and to provide case-by-case advice on the issue.

The Campaign created a screening process, whereby all applicants who contacted OxSRC had to fill in a questionnaire which allowed spotting early on potential problems with documentary requirements and to develop solutions to these problems, on an individual basis. When the Campaign committee knew that these problems could not be overcome (i.e., if an undergraduate applicant did not hold one of the diplomas recognized by the University), it was able to point them early on to other solutions to pursue their education outside of Oxford, instead of having them spend time and energy on applying to Oxford. Specific disclaimer of cases where an application had a very small chance of being successful were included on OxSRC website (one example being the undergraduate degree in medicine, since by law, most places are reserved to British students).

Getting a clear command of application process rules was also very useful in that it allowed the Campaign to realize that many of the paperwork issues identified could easily be overcome. Indeed, the University already had existing regulations stipulating that each individual application should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and that no application could be dismissed from the outset because of missing documents. Knowing this with confidence allowed OxSRC to advise applicants better, and to stress the necessity for them to state very clearly their situation and to include explanatory notes in their personal statement explaining the absence of some documents. Similarly, OxSRC was able to help many applicants to navigate the existing system of English test waiver, which can prove very confusing to applicants.

Finally, the Campaign also worked with the University’s Visa and Immigration team to ensure that a direct communication canal remained open so that the OxSRC committee could seek help quickly should any issue arise regarding one of the applicant’s visa application.

Cultural Norms and Peer Support: The Need for a Mentoring Scheme

To help applicants overcome challenges in the application process (see Section 1.3),OxSRC added a mentoring scheme to its Campaign. The main idea of this scheme was to link current Oxford students with applicants, as the Campaign believes that the former would be in the best position to offer guidance to the latter as they not only had been through the selection process themselves but most importantly they were successful. Such a scheme is especially important to the prospective students, as they are often dealing with multiple sources of stress due to the unique situation they are facing and hence are likely to not have the time to undertake a thorough research on the application and interview processes.

Against this background, OxSRC worked extensively with students to provide mentoring, guidance, and additional information about how to prepare balanced statements of intent that simultaneously reflect personal experiences of the applicant and address the disciplinary requirements for the particular Department. The Campaign specifically deployed and trained student mentors from different departments to provide individual tutoring and guidance to applicants about how to construct their statements of intent.

Where the said mentors felt like they could not answer the applicants’ questions, members of OxSRC worked as an intermediary to relay the specific concerns of the applicant to the Department staff and lecturers. This was the case with the applicant mentioned in Section 1.3 who had prepared a unique proposal that not only sought to address a critical gap in forced migration literature, but equally, to highlight the importance of incorporating in forced migration research the voices and experiences of refugees.

In response to the broad overarching challenges to accessing the generic online application, the Campaign worked with the University administration to ensure that a paper-based application form would be made available for applicants, who could not access the online form. To increase awareness and accessibility, information about the paper-based application form was widely circulated and made available online.

Getting the Word Out: The Need for an Outreach Program

In order to inform potential applicants about the scholarships opportunity, a part of the Campaign focused on expanding the outreach program. Several means of reaching out to potential students were used, some proving more successful than others.

Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, were very successful when the information about the scholarships was shared by users followed online by a large number of at-risk students (e.g., when the Syrian NGO Josoor published it on its Facebook page, OxSRC received about 150 emails in the following two days). INGOs and UN agencies with offices in crisis areas were contacted, as well as activists working with at-risk youth. Universities in conflict-affected areas and in areas with a high number of refugees were informed about the scholarship program, but in this case the response was very low.

Aware of the fact that the application process can be overwhelming, and that in situations of heavy stress potential students might be hesitant about their ability to succeed, OxSRC tried as much as possible to contact individuals, such as university professors, who would personally know the students and thus be able to encourage them to apply.

OxSRC also realized that its scholarship program will not be able to support all applicants who expressed interest; this led the Campaign to add to the outreach program the task of compiling a list of other opportunities available in Europe, so that OxSRC could use the personal relationship created with each applicant to encourage them to look elsewhere as well. The outreach team of the Campaign contacted most European universities asking them to answer a questionnaire about the scholarship opportunities offered, especially those targeting at-risk students, and enquiring about their visa support services for students living outside Europe. The Campaign able to collect about sixty responses which were shared with the Institute of International Education and included in their PEER database.

Having a compiled list of other opportunities available in Europe and worldwide not only encourages non-successful applicants to look elsewhere, and hence to not give up on their education, but also helps reducing the time burden of browsing for scholarship opportunities adding to their often already tight schedule, filled with tasks directly affecting their daily subsistence. For future initiatives to be truly efficient in helping these applicants to save time, coordination among institutions granting scholarships is crucial, as is ensuring that the available information is up to date.

Conclusion: Achievements and Next Steps

Since the outset of OxSRC in October 2015, the Campaign has worked toward achieving its aim to ensuring the establishment of a long-term scholarship fund for at-risk students at the Oxford University and to eliminate barriers such students might face when applying for scholarship.

As a result of the Campaign’s efforts, in the 2017/18 academic year, seven at-risk students will start their studies at Oxford, of whom six will be financially supported by OxSRC and its partner donors in colleges and departments. The seventh will be funded entirely through a single college but remains part of the intake prompted by the efforts of the Campaign.

As of July 2017, OxSRC raised funds of £74,785 of which just under £50,000 was spent on six scholars. In addition to hard financial support, the Campaign was generously supported by donations in the form of accommodation and fee waivers from colleges and departments creating a saving, or donation in kind of £81,022, meaning a total fund of £155,507 worth of education spent across six scholars.

OxSRC deemed it important to avoid over-labeling the scholars in order to give them as much a sense of normalcy within their academic environment as possible. The Campaign therefore decided to exclude the term “refugee” or “at-risk” from the scholarship name and renamed it the Oxford Students Scholarship instead.

Aside from fund raising, the Campaign also established a system of intake for at-risk students applying to Oxford. As a result of the outreach program, the Campaign received and answered over 500 series of correspondence with potential applicants via email, applications being from over 25 countries.

The accompanying student mentor scheme designed to eliminate cultural barriers within the application process through student volunteering supported 48 students. This scheme has proved essential to the applicants who additionally to all challenges faced by all students applying to Oxford were dealing with multiple sources of stress, such as providing for themselves and their families, visa-issues, continuous worrying about their security and the future of their country, to name a few, and therefore guidance from students who have experienced issues described in Section 1.3 first-hand could help lift some of the burden. The Campaign believes that the volunteers also benefited from this scheme, mirroring how the academic community benefits from scholars as much as the potential scholars from being at or in touch with academia.

The Campaign worked to negotiate and collaborate with many departments and internal organizations within the University and external groups to make the application process as fair as possible. Collaboration proved the most productive method and the Campaign used continued dialogue with the admissions department at Oxford to break down non-financial barriers faced by at-risk students to higher education. Through these endeavors the Campaign was able to help adjust the Oxford admissions system to the particular needs of at-risk students.

Perhaps crucial to OxSRC’s efforts in reducing barriers was its ability to listen first-hand from applicants about the problems they were facing in applying. It was from this that the Campaign could prove that, rather than there being no at-risk students applying to Oxford, many were actively unable to apply. The ability to learn from these individuals about their experiences was invaluable to the Campaign and allowed it to tailor its efforts to suit those needs which were explained rather than those which OxSRC suspected might have been problematic.

To ensure that starting or continuing university is an enriching experience, systems of contact and welfare support must be in provision within both the University and its constituent colleges. The use of the University’s counseling service, with appropriate briefing on the scholars’ circumstances would help with this as would a peer based support group among the scholars themselves. In addition, staff both admission and tutors need to be aware of the potential vulnerability of formerly at-risk students and have in place a coordination program to address such issues.

The position of the Campaign within Oxford University has enabled it to hold a public platform. As a result, institutions in the USA, the UK, and even Australia were interested in reproducing the Campaign. OxSRC believes that the ability to demonstrate solidarity and active support, in contributions, from the student body sent a message far stronger than a petition. It was action, and this demonstrated that giving access to higher education to at-risk students is an issue of huge importance for students.

Anyone who values their education, and the opportunities it offers, could conceive of a life in which they were not given them. Higher education should be accessible to all; the OxSRC has shown that the empathy of students can help achieve it.



Although the same was true of certain tests that are required in particular disciplines (such as, e.g., the BMAT admission test for Medicine, Biomedical Science, and Dentistry, or the CAT admission tests for Classics).


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Part I Access to Higher Education
Chapter 1 Introduction to Refugee Education: Strategies, Policies and Directions
Chapter 2 The Role of Education in the Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria: an Exploratory Discourse on the Plight of the Devastated Communities in the Northeast of Nigeria
Chapter 3 Out of School: Home Education and the Refugee Crisis
Chapter 4 Access to and Quality of Higher Education Available to Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Germany
Chapter 5 The Dynamics of the Boko Haram Insurgency and Higher Education in Northeastern Nigeria
Chapter 6 Refugee Education: International Perspectives from Higher Education and Non-Governmental Organizations (Ngos)
Chapter 7 Educational Challenges in South Sudan
Chapter 8 Disabled Refugee Students in Zimbabwe
Chapter 9 Jamiya Project 2016: Reconnecting Refugee Higher Education Networks
Chapter 10 The Political Economy of Public Higher Education in Malawi: Proposals for Extending Equitable Higher Education Access to Refugee Applicants
Chapter 11 Syrian Refugees’ Access to Higher Education: A Belgian Initiative
Chapter 12 State–Civil Society Relations in Education Provision for Syrian Refugees in Turkey
Part II Education Toward Career Development
Chapter 13 Workforce Transitions for Mena Refugee Women in the United States
Chapter 14 What do we know about Refugees’ Models of Career Development and their Implications for Career Counseling?
Chapter 15 Financial Support is not Enough! Barriers in Access to Higher Education of Refugee and Displaced Students: Lessons from the Experience of the Oxford Students Refugee Campaign
Chapter 16 Entrepreneurship Education to create Livelihood among Refugees and Internally Displaced People in the Camps of Kurdistan
Chapter 17 From Pipedream to Possibility: Developing an Equity Target for Refugees to Study Medicine in Australia
Chapter 18 Building Intellectual Capacity for Burma: the Story of Australian Catholic University’s Tertiary Education Program with Burmese Refugee and Migrant Students
About the Authors