Skip to main content

The Compass Project enters its second year

Seventeen new students join us this year as part of the Compass Project, Birkbeck’s unique scholarship and outreach scheme offering asylum seekers a year of fully-funded study.

Birkbeck is proud to welcome seventeen new students to begin their studies at the College through the Compass Project, now in its second year. The Compass Project is an award-winning scholarship and outreach scheme for asylum seekers in the UK which offers them a year of fully-funded study. This news comes as three of the inaugural cohort embark on further study at Birkbeck, one of whom is supported by a Birkbeck alumnus and the Brittan Scholarship, and others take up places at other institutions, including Royal Holloway and Kings College London.

The new students come from 13 different countries, including Syria, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran. They will be studying a variety of courses including Web Design, Molecular Biology, Film and Media, Mathematics, and Criminology.

Each member of the group will take the undergraduate or postgraduate course of their choice as part of the scheme, which is unique in offering asylum seekers university-level education on this scale. The project specifically focuses on supporting mature asylum seekers, who often arrive without the documentation needed to progress into higher education with the aim of helping them gain a valuable universally-recognised qualification to enable further study or join the workforce.

Caroline McDonald, Director of Access and Engagement said: “Birkbeck strives to be a university for everyone and the Compass Project embodies this mission. We were so impressed with last year’s cohort of Compass students who have developed their skills, built their confidence, and in many cases, gone on to further degree-level courses since completing their certificates with us. We’re thrilled to welcome seventeen new Compass students to our community this year, and to continue challenging the barriers that asylum seekers face in accessing higher education.”

Unlike those classified as refugees, the immigration status of asylum seekers means they are treated as international students with no access to loan support. This is often prohibitive for asylum seekers hoping to continue into higher education.

The Compass Project Fund has been established specifically for asylum seekers to overcome these barriers.  As well as funded scholarships, Birkbeck also offers a tailored programme of additional social and academic support to ensure a smooth transition into the British higher education system. Additionally, each successful applicant will be assigned an academic mentor to help them to navigate the academic processes at Birkbeck and provide pastoral care.

Alaa Mizyan is one of the students joining the Compass Project cohort this year to study Physics and Maths. A Palestinian by background, she was born and had begun studying an undergraduate course in Lebanon before her family had to flee, and she came to the UK to seek asylum.

She said: “The day I received an offer from the Compass Project was the day I felt alive again, after all those years of struggling to get back into education.

“When I met the other students who received the scholarship I saw how, to all of us, studying at Birkbeck was a dream come true. I'm confident that at Birkbeck I'll not only gain the knowledge but also the skills, relations and the university experience that I'm looking for. It is very obvious that the chance we have been given will change our lives - it already has!” 

The students began their Birkbeck journey at an event where they were able to meet one another, build a network, and meet colleagues across their academic departments. They also attended the Orientation event for all new students, where they attended sessions with Birkbeck’s Careers & Employability team, who spoke about how students can work on upskilling in advance of gaining settled status when they will be able to work, and with the counselling service, who gave them information and resources on wellbeing, mental health and reaching out for help while at university. Two of last year’s Compass students, Michael and Kasonga, ensured that the material was relevant to those who are seeking asylum, and delivered a talk about the challenges they faced when they started at Birkbeck.

The Compass Project is funded by the kind support of the AlixPartners' Foundation; international law firm Allen & Overy; bank Santander; The Blanes Trust; and donations from Birkbeck alumni.

Further Information