Following a sustained campaign from students, staff, and alumni at the University of Bath calling on the university to offer scholarships for refugees, culminating in a petition of over 1,100 signatures, the issue was discussed at University Senate with an update being given on Wednesday 3rd February.
The outcome of this is fairly well known, thanks to an email from the Vice Chancellor sent to all students and staff who were part of the petition at the University. The proposals in the Vice Chancellor’s response are notable only in that they do not respond to the issues raised in any way.
The first four make no mention of refugees; instead they promote a partnership that has already been established under the guise of support for the region and the wider University policy of increasing internationalisation.More significantly, those in refugee camps in Jordan are currently not permitted to attend Higher Education institutes in the region as the institutions require documentation on their previous studies.
This poses a practical issue for refugees, who often do not bring this kind of documentation when fleeing a war-torn country. Furthermore, any refugees with papers who are outside of the camps and living in Jordan are unable to afford the thousands of dollars demanded by Jordanian institutions.
The argument around conducting research in areas of national priority makes no concrete commitment in terms of time, money, or any other resource; the same can be said about the fourth, which only offers to “strengthen” an existing partnership. The Study Centre in Amman was opened in January, meaning it was in the pipeline long before the petition was presented in November.
Finally, the proposal to introduce scholarships on the postgraduate programme means any scholarship scheme is only available to those who have already completed a course of education – and can sufficiently prove this to access the postgraduate course.
As well as this, research undertaken in 2015 in Amman and similar areas where refugees were attempting to access education highlighted several key difficulties in doing so.
For example, due to intermittent electricity, poor access to learning facilities, and practical issues such as hunger, refugees struggle to complete courses that make attaining a university degree result in being overqualified with no prospects for utilising it. The research noted that it is imperative that refugees need to be taken out of this environment and supported in a different community with stronger infrastructure.
The Vice Chancellor’s claim is that the University is going far beyond what is sought. 1,100 people, including Syrians in our community, called for scholarships to be provided at the University; instead the cause has been used to promote a previously established research partnership at an institution inaccessible to refugees.
The UCU recently published a breakdown of the VC’s gesture, see it here