The University of Bath has become the latest UK university to be recognised with a Sanctuary award in recognition of its initiatives, actions and efforts to welcome refugees and asylum seekers.

Joining a select list of higher education institutions known as ‘universities of Sanctuary’, the announcement of Bath’s award comes on World Access to Higher Education Day [Tuesday 17 November] – a day intended to raise global awareness around inequities in access and success within higher education.

The Sanctuary Award, conferred by the charity City of Sanctuary, acknowledges the University’s efforts to support students from refugee and asylum backgrounds financially, academically and pastorally. It also recognises how research from Bath, and new initiatives in learning and teaching, including in new courses, have bolstered these efforts.

Crucially, a key focus has been on the collaborative nature of the University’s work, including significant contributions from the Students’ Union (SU), the local branch of the University and College Union (UCU), and staff and students to create a welcoming, open environment for students arriving at Bath from war-torn parts of the world.

Professor Peter Lambert, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) who has led this work explained: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded 'University of Sanctuary' by City of Sanctuary. This is a tremendous achievement and accolade for the University and is the result of the initiatives and actions that have come together over recent years in response to the refugee crisis.

"These efforts are embedded right across the University, from campaigns, fundraising and other initiatives led by students, staff, unions and the SU, right through to new academic courses, cutting-edge research and outreach both in the UK and Middle East. We are currently supporting 23 students with Refugee or Asylum Seeker status. These collective efforts are making a real difference to people’s lives both here in the UK and abroad.

“This award is a fantastic example of what we can achieve by people working together to achieve a collective ambition. My sincere thanks to everyone who played such an important role in our support for refugees and asylum seekers and our application to become a University of Sanctuary.”

Students’ Union Community Officer Freya Jackson added: “This award is a perfect example of how effective student lobbying and campaigning can be when working in collaboration with the University and recognises the hard work that has been taking place for the last five years. I would like to say a huge thank you to the students who have been keeping the needs of refugees at the forefront of their agenda, particularly Bath STAR and Amnesty, and this achievement would not be possible without them. The award highlights the great work already taking place, but also a commitment to continue with this work and I look forward to seeing the continued progress that the University will make.”

Support for our students

From academic to pastoral support, a number of measures have been put in place to ensure students from refugee backgrounds have the tools they need to succeed in their studies. Significantly, this includes financial support too.

In June 2017, the University introduced two Postgraduate (PG) Taught Sanctuary Scholarships open to asylum seekers in the UK. These scholarships, worth more than £15,000 each, are jointly funded by alumni donations including alumnus Stuart Appleton, Bath UCU branch, and the University International Relations Office, while academic departments are providing full tuition fee waivers.

Our undergraduate students with Refugee or Humanitarian Protection status are supported with a guaranteed place in University accommodation for the duration of their course, a non-repayable bursary of £1,000 a year, £1,000 to help with start-up costs and £1,000 on graduation, as well as access to means-tested bursaries and support. These include the Gold Scholarship Programme (GSP), Bath Bursary and Income Related Scholarships. One Gold Scholarship each year is ring-fenced specifically for refugee applicants.

All refugee and asylum students at Bath are offered specialist advice and guidance throughout their studies from the Student Retention & Success Team within Student Services. This gives them a named point of contact to talk through any queries or concerns and access to support from across the University. The team also work with other vulnerable groups of students and have links with external organisations that can also offer additional support.

Read more about how our Gold Scholarship Programme has benefited Ghazala

A commitment to teaching and learning

In September 2018, the Department of Social & Policy Sciences launched a part time distance-learning MSc in Humanitarianism, Conflict and Development designed to offer training and a qualification to those working in the field. Supported by this course, our students are playing a direct role in responding to mass displacement, including in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Read about MSc student Nav Sawhney’s Washing Machine Project for refugee camps

In addition, working with international partners in Jordan, the University’s Department of Education currently delivers, with support from the Queen Rania Teacher Academy, courses leading to the PG Certificate in Educational Studies for Jordanian teachers teaching in government schools . To date, more than 20 government school Jordanian teachers – including some who currently teach ‘double shifts’, teaching Jordanian students in the morning and Syrian, Iraqi and Yemini refugees in the afternoon – have benefited from the scheme.

These initiatives complement work being undertaken on curriculum transformation across all courses focusing on internationalisation, student wellbeing and shared purpose.

Drawing on our research strengths

A number of University researchers focus on issues relating to forced migration and supporting displaced people around the world.

One of the most significant cross-University projects, ‘Healthy Housing for Displaced People’, led by Professor David Coley and Dr Jason Hart, draws on our strengths in architecture and civil engineering as well as in social policy and anthropology to help improve living conditions in refugee camps. The team behind the project are working in refugee camps in Jordan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Djibouti to carry out the largest-ever global study into thermal, air quality and social conditions of refugee shelters, with the aim that their results can make a profound and positive impact on people’s lives.

Read more about the results from the study, released earlier this year during Refugee Week 2020.

More recently and in response to COVID-19, Dr Hart also launched a rapid project to assess the efficacy of public health messaging about the pandemic in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza.

Working with the local community

Work enhancing and protecting the rights of asylum seekers internationally is reflected here in Bath too. In 2018, Bath students created the Bath Student Action for Refugees (STAR) society. They aim to support all refugees and asylum seekers in the local community through volunteering, campaigning, and raising awareness of refugee issues. STAR members also run a weekly Homework Club where refugee children find encouragement and assistance.

With the Students’ Union, the University also offers all students including those from refugee backgrounds a chance to play an active role in the community through volunteering, including via Amnesty and our Arab societies. Several Bath students volunteer one-to-one English language support, or assist with the running of the weekly crèche, that supports ‘Bath Welcomes Refugees’’ English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes.

Ben Goose who led Bath's Sanctuary application and coordinates additional support for refugee students studying at Bath said: “We look forward to collaborating with City of Sanctuary over the next three years to develop this important work, welcoming more students from a refugee background to Bath, and building on our links both locally and internationally in this area. Our application for the award set out several aims for the future which the working group are excited to take forward, and we encourage and welcome input from across the university so do get in touch if you would like to contribute.”

Nikki Walters, South & South West Regional Coordinator for City of Sanctuary added: "Congratulations to the University of Bath on being awarded as a university of Sanctuary. It is a fantastic achievement and the appraisal panel was thoroughly impressed with the great work taking place at the university.

"This award recognises the work the university has undertaken, both in terms of teaching and research, and also the support it is providing people with lived experience of seeking sanctuary to enable them to access higher education. It is impressive to see the support this work has received from all levels of the university, and particularly the support from the student body. I am looking forward to working with the University of Bath team over the coming years as they continue to develop their culture of welcome for people seeking sanctuary at the university and in the wider local community."