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Asylum seekers: forgotten in our universities

While the Coalition government wages war on students and pushes through an market-driven agenda bent on the commodification of education, many young people in Britain today fear that with £9000 fees, university is no longer a right, but a luxury they can ill-afford.

In the midst of this degradation of the belief that education is a universal right, there is an often-unheard voice amongst those young people who know all too well how it feels to have the chance of a university education made totally unachievable by the punitive economic structures in place. These people are Britain’s asylum seekers.

As an asylum seeker in Britain today, it is virtually impossible to gain the chance of a university education. Asylum seekers in Britain are legally treated as overseas students, despite the fact many of these young asylum seekers may have spent the majority of their lives in Britain, grown up alongside their British peers and friends, passed through the British compulsory education system and potentially achieved excellent results.

As overseas students, asylum seekers are charged on average fees of £11,650 per year, as opposed to the £6,000 – £9,000 home fee rate. They are banned from taking out student loans, and are not entitled to low-income bursaries or allowed to apply for most scholarships. On top of this, asylum seekers are denied the right to work and therefore earn their way through their degree.

Many young asylum seekers become trapped in a post-compulsory education limbo, watching their British peers allowed the chance to pursue higher education, while remaining left behind, unable to contribute either to their own education or to wider society. They are denied the chance to use the British qualifications they achieved in school; even if they win a place at university, the high fees and lack of support in place makes it all but impossible.

Despite the fact the vast majority of asylum seekers are fleeing their home country due to some form of fear or oppression, the majority wish to return there one day and help others rebuild their country. By depriving these people of a university education which could help them return home and make a future for their homeland, we are depriving people seeking asylum of the same life chances we would wish for our own children.

Universities must be a place of tolerance open to all with a genuine pursuit of knowledge, and this cannot be the case while asylum seekers are not able to accept university places offered to them on equal terms to their British-born peers. Universities must show compassion and treat asylum seekers as they would other applicants from low-income backgrounds and welcome asylum seekers as a valuable and underrepresented part of the community. Some universities, such as Leeds and Manchester, already offer reduced fees to asylum seekers, but systemic change is needed to combat this ingrained discrimination.

There are many horror stories in higher education today, with life opportunities being torn away from from a whole generation of youn British people. It is important to remember the vast discrimination the British higher education system also serves to Britain’s asylum seekers. If we are to argue that education is a universal right, it is up to the left and the student movement to stand shoulder to shoulder with our comrades seeking asylum as much as with British-born and international students.

We must unite our fight against the marketisation of education, against depriving young people of opportunity, and against fees. The current case of asylum seekers in this country must be taken up to demonstrate what a future of young people locked-out of education looks like.

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