Equal fees for asylum seekers

Oxford students are supporting a national campaign to grant asylum seekers lower University fees. The students intend to lobby the University to allow asylum seekers to pay home fee rates for their tuition.

Asylum seekers and some refugees are currently classed as overseas students and must pay fees of up to £20,000 per year.  Moreover, asylum seekers are unable to take out student loans, cannot apply for grants and most bursaries, and are not permitted to work.

A motion was passed at OUSU Council pledging its support. It argues “the current funding system, both nationally and within Oxford University, is unfairly punitive towards asylum seekers.”

It was proposed by Michael Walker, a representative of the Oxford branch of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), the group leading the campaign.
Speaking to Cherwell, Walker commented, “Considering Oxford’s current public effort to widen access to the University, we hope it will recognise the importance of the ‘equal access campaign’ in working to achieve this end.”

Jonny Medland, OUSU VP Access and Academic Affairs, commented, “Getting into Oxford is hard enough for students from privileged backgrounds – any asylum seeker who has got an Oxford offer should be given all the support that they need to make sure that they can come here.”

Manchester, London  Metropolitan, Liverpool, Manchester  Metropolitan, Middlesex and Edge Hill Universities have all reduced the fees they charge asylum seekers to the level of home students, and Walker hopes Oxford can soon be added to that list.

“STAR’s campaign in Oxford is part of a national movement that has already achieved success around the UK, including at Manchester University, where fees for undergraduates seeking asylum have been lowered to the ‘home rate’. We strongly believe that Oxford has a responsibility to add its weight to a campaign to persuade the government to change its punitive funding policy.

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“Furthermore, until government policy has changed, we urge Oxford to follow the lead of other universities in offering those seeking asylum an education at home fee rates, thus helping to reduce the injustice caused by a funding regime that effectively excludes those seeking asylum from higher education. STAR looks forward to working with the University to achieve a positive outcome on this issue.”

Wadham and Somerville JCRs had declared their support for Walker’s motion. However, in an online survey at St Edmund Hall, the overwhelming majority voted against the motion. Students expressed concern that the University funding is limited and this may eat into it. However, Walker pointed out that the number of students this would realistically affect would be minor, and that this was more “a matter of principle.”

As well as campaigning on this issue, Oxford STAR is involved with other projects. According to Ellie Bates, a member of the group, the Oxford branch “has been established for many years and the current membership are really active with 50 people attending events.” 

The University had offered no comment on the issue at the time of going to press.