The University of Bath is a proud participant of the Warm Welcome Scholarship Scheme, co-funded by the Department for Education and participating Higher Education Providers, and delivered by the British Council. The scheme aims to provide financial assistance to eligible scholars in the UK with links to Afghanistan.
We spoke to PHD scholars Mir (PhD in Education) and Mustafa (PhD in Social and Policy Studies) to learn about what brought them to Bath, the community on campus (and beyond) and what they have gained from studying here.
What led you to coming to Bath under the Warm Welcome Scholarship?
Mir: "I was a lecturer at Herat University, Afghanistan for over a decade. I also engaged in research with different organisations and worked with the British Council as a trainer for several years. Because of my association with the British government, I was lucky to be given the option to relocate to the UK when the country collapsed. I was doing a PhD in Iran at the time, but I couldn't complete that when all the chaos happened. I became a refugee, something I had never thought about in my life.
"I’ve travelled to many countries in the past and studied in the US, completing my master's degree there. I never talked about seeking refuge, I always wanted to stay and support my people. But there was a moment when I had to leave.
"I moved my family to Bath because I had a short-term job offer at the University of Bristol to teach in a pre-sessional academic English programme. Initially, I was hoping to find jobs in academia or research.
"Before I came to Bath, I was in held a bridging hotel while the Home Office found accommodation. Because I was a researcher, I looked at things through a researcher’s lens. I could see a lot of challenges other displaced families faced with their children's education. I decided I wanted to do something in this regard. So although I had found a job, my heart was still in academia and I decided to continue with my education. I heard about the Warm Welcome Scholarship and applied. I decided to focus on refugee education.
"I chose the University of Bath because of the scholarship, expertise and professional support from my supervisors. They have relevant backgrounds in this topic, especially related to working with children and issues of social justice."
Mustafa: "I came to the University of Bath as part of the Chevening Scholarship. This gave me the opportunity to travel from Afghanistan to the UK for my postgraduate degree. I chose to study International Development with Conflict and Humanitarian Action in the Social Policy Science department. This course was in line with my background and the modules aligned with my future goals and career plans.
"Other students who came to the UK on scholarships recommended the University of Bath − not only because of my chosen course, but for the overall support available and level of willingness from staff and academics to share opportunities and information. And because Bath is a beautiful city.
"After completing my master's, I was looking for a scholarship to pursue a PhD degree. Luckily the Warm Welcome scholarship was launched by the British Council for Afghan students settled in the UK under Afghan relocation and settlement scheme. I wanted to continue my PhD at Bath because of the amazing support I had experienced first-hand. It was easy to find a suitable supervisor and coordinate everything with them, identify gaps within my research field, apply, get the admission offer and scholarship and start my PhD journey."
Do you know how the support and resources available at Bath compares to elsewhere?
Mir: "I believe the support the University of Bath provides really stands out. Not all universities were initially willing to participate in the Warm Welcome Scholarship. The initiative was conceived by the British Council and they shared that proposal with the Department for Education, saying that if universities were willing to waive the fees and accept the students, they would grant them the scholarship. Bath accepted and even went beyond what they had promised. For example, in the second round Bath said they would accept one PhD student. However, they accepted both of us in the January intake.
"There are people at the University who truly care and strive to make a difference. We are grateful for the support of Ruth Roberts-Chen, who advocated on our behalf. People here have empathy and they care. They go the extra mile.
"When I decided to start my admission, the deadline was very tight. The form asked me to provide an English proficiency test. As I studied in the US I assumed this would be fine − however, because there had been a long gap since my degree they were still asking for the test. People at Bath helped me find an alternative solution, they didn’t just use a black-and-white checklist."
Mustafa: "The University of Bath provides excellent support to its students, responding quickly to any issue and offering emergency support when needed. In addition to financial support, the University also encourages students to seek psycho-social support if required. The University provides counselling and mental health services, disability support and money management advice.
"Moreover, the University tops up scholarship stipends for students who receive the Warm Welcome Scholarship from the British Council. The amount provided by British council does not meet the UKRI stipend standard, and the British Council and the Department of Education were not able to top up the stipend. This additional support from the University of Bath sets our University apart from other institutions.
"Overall, the University of Bath provides comprehensive support to its students, including financial, psycho-social, and academic support, making it a great choice for students seeking a supportive environment to pursue their studies."
Is there a good network of fellow students here at Bath?
Mir: "There are many groups, associations and programmes for international students. I attended a gathering for newly arrived PhD students focused on inclusivity and there was also a separate gathering for PhD students who are on scholarship."
"When the University talks about inclusivity it's not just words but actions, Bath puts it into practice. They care and provide support. There’s also a great network at the department level. I love my supervisors. They are very approachable, responsive, supportive and genuinely caring. Also, I'm a volunteer with Bath Welcomes Refugees. I have noticed some volunteers from my department there. That means a lot."
Mustafa: "When I joined the University of Bath during my master's degree, there was good coordination between international development students, and there is an app available that students can use to find friends, make connections, and build networks. There are also many Facebook groups where you can share information or raise any issues. Also, in my department there is an active WhatsApp group. I'm still in contact with my master's degree fellows and now with the PhD students as well."
Have you found the wider community at the University accepting and welcoming as well?
Mir: "Definitely. I'm outgoing and hold the attitude that everybody welcomes me. Sometimes people form opinions based on rumours or false assumptions. That's why, if someone doesn't say hi to them, they might interpret that as they are not welcome.
"I have never seen or even heard of students not being welcoming. The community context of the campus affects the way people behave. It's different from other parts of the country or the city of Bath. When you enter, you enter a new academic context where everybody is treated the same − whether teachers or students, everybody is part of the community, and you don’t feel like an outsider.
"Recently, I also started playing football in the evening at the STV. There are people from outside the University who come and we all play together, supporting a culture of integration. Indeed, sport is a great way to bring people together."
Mustafa: "The atmosphere is very inclusive. You never feel excluded. Everyone is really welcoming."
What mentorship or guidance have you received from faculty or staff at Bath?
Mir: "They've been very supportive. My supervisor helped me secure a job as a research assistant. Whenever I have a question, there's a safe space to reach out to them and they're very responsive. I also like our structured and disciplined format, which helps with my productivity. I come from a culture where you need a deadline to get something done. Or at least that’s my working style. I find it very helpful that we set deadlines, have set goals and try to be very productive. I really like the feedback they give, very constructive and encouraging."
Mustafa: "In terms of developing my proposal for my PhD degree, my mentor and three professors from the department were very helpful. My PHD is on ‘the impact of Urban ruler divide on sustainable peace in Afghanistan’. My supervisor, Oliver Walton, connected me with professors from other universities who have relevant expertise in my field, such as SOAS University of London. The department always encourages us to take part in academic opportunities, such as marking papers from bachelor students or contributing to reviewing papers, as well as taking part in academic seminars and conferences relevant to our field of research."
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Mir: "I always wanted to be a teacher. I didn't really have a fixed plan and started studying business. As my English improved, I started teaching alongside my studies. It was then that realised how much I enjoyed it. From there, I decided to pursue it as my chosen career."
Mustafa: "In Afghanistan, information about career options after high school is limited. Upon graduation from high school and taking a National University entrance test, students select five courses and are placed in one based on their score. Despite choosing and enrolling in a high-paying field of engineering, I realised that expertise in any field can lead to success. So beside studying engineering, I pursued professional training in various social and humanitarian fields and landed jobs with international development, peace and social organizations. These include the International German Cooperation Organization, International psycho social organization, Civil Peace Service organization, Swedish International development and cooperation agency, and Swedish Embassy in Kabul before receiving the Chevening scholarship that launched my career."
Which superpower would you like to possess?
Mir: "I would instil greater empathy in people. I'm working on research exploring this, looking at a set of guiding principles. One of the principles is love. The way I describe love is having a set of characteristics such as understanding, recognising, acknowledging, and then having empathy and care. Also forward thinking, inspiration and hope. If people have these traits, I think this will resolve many issues. They would be less judgemental and more inclined to understand others' perspectives. People will support others without saying, ‘they're outsiders’ or ‘they're not from here’."
Mustafa: "I agree, I would like to increase people’s empathy level and acceptance of each other. Increasing empathy and acceptance of others is crucial to improving inclusivity in our communities and reducing conflict across the world.
"Starting from a level of acceptance, trust and inclusivity can create a world where everyone can thrive − and that’s a world I’d like to live in."
When are you happiest?
Mir: "When I see others happy, it brings me joy. In the research I referred to, another aspect of the framework I'm using to look at the support offered to refugees talks about levels of concern. There are five levels, starting with apathy, then sympathy, empathy, metapathy and transpathy. Transpathy is the profound joy one feels when witnessing the happiness of others.
"Let's say you support a student and when you see that student's success, you feel as if you succeeded. For me, in my life, one of the reasons I love teaching is because I get that feeling. I feel blessed and happy when I see people I support succeed."
Mustafa: "The same − when I help someone, it really makes me feel happy. We should all aspire to help each other more."