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Compass Project in running for major outreach award

The initiative, which is helping 20 asylum seekers to study at the College for a year, is a finalist at the Guardian University Awards.

Birkbeck’s Compass Project, the pioneering scheme which is enabling asylum seekers to pursue their higher education dreams, has been shortlisted for a major university sector award.

It was today named as one of the finalists in the Guardian University Awards 2018 for the widening access and outreach category. The prize recognises institutions that have “demonstrably helped to increase the number of disadvantaged and underrepresented students entering university” and raised their aspirations. Winners will be announced at a ceremony which is being staged at LSO St Luke’s in London on 24 April.

The College accepted its first intake of 20 Compass students in October 2017, each receiving potentially life-changing study for one year for free, with support from academic mentors. The project is believed to be the first opportunity of such a scale in the UK.

The group includes people from war-torn countries and oppressive regimes including Syria, Iran, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The students have undertaken courses in politics, data science, economics, healthcare, international development, law, international security and global governance, and legal methods.

Without the support of the Compass Project, study would be an almost impossible task for asylum seekers. Their immigration status means that as well as being unable to work, they are considered international students and therefore have to pay tuition fees at a much higher rate. Additionally, they are ineligible for support from the Student Loans Company and have no financial backing to pay tuition fees or maintenance.

Pioneered by Birkbeck’s Widening Access team alongside a number of organisations and supporters, it is providing fully-funded places to a group of people seeking asylum, on undergraduate or postgraduate certificate courses of their choice. The students have also been given tailored guidance to help them navigate a new education system.

Compass Project coordinator Naureen Abubacker said: “We are delighted the Compass Project has been shortlisted for the Guardian Education awards. The project powerfully reflects Birkbeck’s mission of enabling adult refugees and asylum seekers to access educational opportunities and, more importantly, is reaching out to a vulnerable group who may otherwise be excluded from university study due to their precarious status. 

“The success of the project has been a result of the efforts and support of colleagues around the College. Their commitment to the students and the project has been essential in ensuring the academic journey, from pre-entry to actually being part of the course, has been positive – showcasing how great things can be achieved through excellent collaboration.

“Importantly, being shortlisted for this award offers further recognition to the importance of life-long learning and the transformational impact that education can have, no matter what your background.”

Also shortlisted for the widening and access award are Nottingham Trent University and the University of Sunderland. There are 16 categories in total to be decided at the awards ceremony.

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