Outreach work could increase the ‘1% of refugees who reach higher education’

“This kind of work is about identifying the needs of the individual and providing effective signposting”

A new report claims just 1% of refugees reach higher education, but there is an argument that this figure could be improved with outreach work by universities. Lucy Judd, outreach coordinator at Nottingham Trent University, explains.

Imagine having aspirations of staying in education to become a doctor, lawyer or architect, but then being unexpectedly forced to abandon your studies and flee your country because it is unsafe, leaving you unsure of what your future holds.

There are more than 15 million refugees worldwide, according to the British Red Cross, but a new report claims that just 1% of refugees ‘reach tertiary education’, or in simple terms, reach higher education.

Attending university is often an important aim for refugees seeking to rebuild their lives in a new country and not only does education represent an opportunity to continue pursuing their goals and aspirations, but it also offers the chance to integrate into a new culture and environment. This, of course, has benefits for the host country too. Those from refugee backgrounds frequently cite education as the key to integration, through employment, learning a new language and establishing new friendships and networks of support.

However, according to the recent study by the European Students Union (ESU) many refugees struggle to reach university, largely due to limited recognition of previously obtained international qualifications and a lack of advice and guidance. This is especially the case for those with no documents, or those in need of additional English language support.

At Nottingham Trent University, we believe that although refugees face significant barriers to accessing university, outreach work can play a vital role in providing the extra support necessary to help navigate those additional hurdles.

Experience tells us that volunteers, teachers, foster carers, and other professionals who are already doing much to support refugees, are often unsure about how best to advise those aspiring to university study. By working in collaboration with local organisations, we are able to provide clarity around what can be a very confusing and complicated process.

“Ultimately, outreach provides long-term support and access, which is especially necessary when the journey there for so many refugees will be a long one”

This kind of work is about identifying the needs of the individual and providing effective signposting. For many, simply visiting a university and talking to staff and students offers valuable motivation and reassurance that they can achieve their goals. For others, it is about providing the opportunity to practice English, socialise with peers and visit new parts of the city as part of a group that is welcoming and supportive. We also anticipate that outreach will increasingly become a platform for supporting those whose studies have been interrupted by their displacement, to get back on track with learning here in the UK and to continue pursuing their chosen careers.

Ultimately, outreach provides the long-term support and access to university which is especially necessary when the journey there for so many refugees will be a long one.

To date, work at Nottingham Trent has been about establishing the Refugee Outreach Programme and shaping it to be as effective as possible. We offer opportunities to find out more about the UK higher education system and accessing finance, tours and academic taster sessions, as well as English-language support at evening classes and an annual summer school.

This year, we will see our first asylum-seeking outreach participants take up their offered university places at institutions across the country – and all with suitable funding in place to help ensure their smooth transition and ultimate success.

So far, hundreds of young people and adults have had pre-entry access to Nottingham Trent and other institutions through our Refugee Outreach Programme, and we are hopeful that over time this will have an increasing impact on the number of people from refugee backgrounds that we will see successfully progressing to university here in the UK.