Our University of Sanctuary initiative was one of the innovative approaches supporting people seeking sanctuary highlighted at an international conference organised by The Association of Commonwealth Universities at University of Edinburgh early this month.

The conference from 7-8 March, on the theme ‘Extending the welcome’ brought together academics, policymakers, students, and partners from across the Commonwealth and beyond to explore the role of universities in supporting people seeking sanctuary worldwide.

Providing a forum to share best practice, the event showcased innovative approaches to supporting refugees and at-risk academics – from King’s College London’s PADILEIA project, to Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, and initiatives in the UK (Universities of Sanctuary), Canada (World University Service Canada) and Malta (Spark Fifteen).

Through a series of workshops and panels, discussions centred around four key areas: open and distance learning; mobility and sanctuary; pathway programmes and skills training; and partnerships. Key themes emerging from these discussions include:

  • The importance of working with – not necessarily for – those affected by displacement
  • Leveraging the power of partnerships and networks to ensure maximum impact within the higher education sector and beyond
  • Taking a holistic approach that looks beyond purely academic solutions e.g. offering pastoral care, networking opportunities, psycho-social / trauma counselling, and practical support
  • Sanctuary as a critical concept to guide collective action
  • Listening to students’ voices and empowering them to set up peer-to-peer networks, enact change and support the integration of refugee students

The conference also highlighted what tangible outputs can be delivered, and how by working together can amplify the power of networks and create long-term solutions to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, ideas and best practices, which will continue to support and provide sanctuary for refugees and at-risk scholars.