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Birkbeck launches the Compass Project for asylum seekers in London

Asylum seekers and refugees in London will have the opportunity to change their lives thanks to a new Birkbeck initiative.

Birkbeck at dusk

Asylum seekers and refugees in London will have the opportunity to change their lives thanks to a new Birkbeck, University of London initiative: the Compass Project.

This new initiative will see Birkbeck offer 20 asylum seekers per year a fully-funded place on any undergraduate or postgraduate certificate course, to enable them to acquire a valuable qualification, recognised in the UK and worldwide, while also providing the building blocks for further university study.

“Asylum seekers are a vulnerable group, with many having experienced incredibly traumatic events before their arrival in the UK,” says Rebecca Murray from Article 26, a charity that the College consulted before launching the programme and which works with universities to provide advice and guidance on supporting students who are seeking asylum in the UK. “Education offers the prospect of rehabilitation and creating a new life.”

“Their immigration status means asylum seekers are treated as international students, so they have to pay tuition fees at an international rate,” explains Murray. “Secondly, asylum seekers aren’t eligible for student loan support from the Student Loans Company, meaning no financial backing to pay their tuition fees or maintenance.

“They also have to navigate what can seem a bewilderingly complex academic system and culture,” she adds. “The unfamiliarity can be overwhelming.” 

The new Birkbeck programme aims to help overcome these barriers through offering both funded places on its courses for asylum seekers taking part in the programme, and a specifically tailored programme of additional support to smooth their transition to the British higher education system. This will include help with getting to grips with different academic approaches and student culture.

Caroline McDonald, Head of Widening Access at Birkbeck, said:

“There is a real need for what we are now offering. Traditional higher education, which often means full-time daytime study, just isn’t feasible for asylum seekers or refugees. These are people who are just arriving in the UK and who, more often than not, have had a severely disrupted education, yet are intelligent, enthusiastic and keen to resume their studies.”

Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck, added:

“The initiative is a fitting continuation of our mission, started by George Birkbeck nearly 200 years ago: to bring education to every Londoner who wants to better themselves, regardless of means or background.”

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