As my flatmates and I sat around aimlessly lamenting the grossly unfair fees we are paying just to be here, it struck me that we were infinitely luckier than an entire group of youth in Britain simply by the fact that at the end of the day, whatever strain it may be exerting, we can all afford it.
The Student Action for Refugees (STAR) Society’s petition for the University of York to charge asylum seekers home fees and the right to additional support is rightfully drawing attention to the extremely unfair restrictions placed upon asylum seekers wishing to pursue Higher Education in Britain. Despite many growing up in Britain, they are forced to pay international fees which range from around £11,650 per year to a staggering £29,000 per year. Asylum seekers are also unable to receive any form of bursary or student loan, and they aren’t even allowed to earn a wage.
The likelihood of any of them having a spare £35,000 or so lying around is low. For someone fleeing across the world to escape persecution, the likelihood is even lower, and the £5 per week they are given for living costs (roughly half of the sum given to unemployed British citizens, incidentally) isn’t going to help.
It is clear that the option of pursuing higher education in Britain is practically nonexistent for asylum seekers. Before May 2011, however, asylum seekers were charged home fees. This is not an outdated law ready to be reformed, but a complete step backwards in my opinion.
Preventing people with genuine ambitions from finding themselves a secure footing on a career ladder is forcing them towards the stereotype of resource-spongers that desperately needs to be overridden. The number of asylum seekers applying to study at the University of York will be low. The necessity of obtaining further Discretionary Leave to remain in the country after leaving full time education is having an effect on the numbers who would be able to apply.
There would be no significant economic blow felt by the University if these few students were charged home fees. I fail to see any fault in a gesture that would have great positive impact on a few without any significant negative impact on the majority.
If words are not enough, practical examples can be seen through universities such as Royal Holloway, Leeds and Manchester, which already offer tuition fee concessions for asylum seekers similar to that before the law change in 2011. However whilst the step these few universities have taken is significant, there are over 300 higher education institutions in the UK, and if the large majority are refusing to take the morally right stance by choice, greater persuasion needs to be used. It would be very easy to argue that those who aren’t UK citizens are simply not our responsibility and so we don’t need to help them. But this is the wrong view to take. The right to education is universal. Without exception.