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University of Sanctuary conference a huge success

Last week we held our fourth annual Universities of Sanctuary Conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh.

It is a testament to the commitment of the Universities network that 159 people travelled to Edinburgh to take part in this gathering to discuss access to higher education for people who have experience of forced migration. More than a third of all the conference attendees had lived experience of forced migration themselves, contributing to the conversation as students, campaigners, university and third sector professionals.

“Education should be a right not a privilege. That’s why our Universities of Sanctuary network works hard to ensure that more people seeking sanctuary have access to higher education. Because education is opportunity, it’s possibility, it’s freedom. Right now over a third of all UK universities either have the award or are working towards it – this is a real sea change in the sector. This is a movement led by students, activists, lecturers, university staff and more working together to create welcome and equal access in higher education, and our conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh was the perfect celebration of everything that has been achieved by the network and all our ambitions for the future.”
Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK

We were delighted to host the University of Sanctuary conference. The University of Edinburgh was the first university in Scotland to be accredited as a University of Sanctuary and we remain dedicated to promoting a welcoming culture within the University and our wider communities for those seeking sanctuary.

Today, over 100 million people across the world are forcibly displaced and only six per cent of refugees have access to higher education. Amongst those fleeing violence, persecution and armed conflict are talented scholars. Unable to continue their studies, research careers or access higher education, the world risks losing their knowledge and contributions forever.

Conferences like this bring together refugees, universities, policy makers, NGO’s and academics from all across the UK so that together we can work to improve access to higher education for those forcibly displaced and reach the globally agreed UNHCR target of fifteen per cent of refugees being able to access higher education by 2030.
Alan MacKay, Deputy Vice-Principal International, The University of Edinburgh

This conference was opportunity for not just celebrating and recognising good practice, but also to find solutions and a chance for peer-to-peer support, networking and learning from each other.

In the UK, a growing number of communities are committed to ensuring their towns and cities are places of sanctuary. Universities have a vital role to play in ensuring that forced migrants are able to access Higher Education, and also in working with their local community to improve the practice and culture of welcome.

Collectively, universities play a significant part in catalysing welcome, and this has never been more important or more needed than now. Universities, and groups within universities, are also well-placed to lead on activities, campaigns and research which could shift the narrative about refugees locally and globally.

“In 2022 we saw just how well universities collectively lobbied their MPs and governmental bodies. We saw the importance of universities building meaningful relationships with partners, local authorities and refugee communities to provide accommodation and other support required in emergency situations and last but certainly not least, we saw that migrants’ voices must be at the core of any university response. Putting effective systems in place requires consultation and proactive and compassionate listening. The power must be afforded to people with lived experience to lead and shape the response.”

-Daniel Mutanda, University of Sanctuary steering group member

Right now there are sixty Universities who either have the University of Sanctuary award or are working towards it – that’s well over a third of all UK universities.  There are also now 85 universities with sanctuary scholarships – that’s around half of all UK universities.The impact of this is huge.

Find out more and get your local university involved here.