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Compass Project wins major education prize

The scheme, helping asylum seekers to achieve their dreams, triumphed at the Guardian University Awards.

Two students on the Compass Project. The Birkbeck initiative awarded in Widening Access category at the Guardian University Awards.

Birkbeck’s pioneering Compass Project which enables asylum seekers to have access to higher education has been recognised with a major prize at the Guardian University Awards 2018.

The scheme, which gives a year’s fully-funded education at Birkbeck to 20 students this academic year, triumphed in the Widening Access category at the annual awards event which was staged in London tonight.

The Compass Project launched in the autumn of 2017 and is the only project on such a scale operating in the UK. Birkbeck was competing with Nottingham Trent University and the University of Sunderland for the Widening Access title which recognised institutions that have “demonstrably helped to increase the number of disadvantaged and underrepresented students entering university” and raised their aspirations.

It was one of 16 categories awarded at the ceremony, staged at LSO St Luke’s in London.

Caroline McDonald, Birkbeck’s Head of Access and Engagement, said: “I am thrilled for the team and our wonderful students on the Compass Project. The comments from the judges demonstrate that the work we do is vital and about making a tangible difference to the lives of mature refugees and asylum seekers. Birkbeck is the right university to lead this specialist outreach and our cross-sector partnerships make this a truly collaborative project achieving the best outcomes for  our students. We look forward to continuing this amazing and important work into the future.”

Dr Leslie Topp of the Department of History of Art, who spearheaded the project, said: "It is extremely gratifying to have Birkbeck's brave and life-changing work for forced migrants recognised. The award is testament to what can happen when academic and professional staff from across the college work together for something we believe in. We take our inspiration from the courageous and determined people at the heart of this project: the students who have persevered in the face of hostile environments in their home countries and here in the UK to find their way into a university education."

Without the support of the Compass Project, Such study would be almost impossible for asylum seekers without the sort of support the project gives. 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. They are ineligible for support from the Student Loans Company and have no financial backing to pay tuition fees or maintenance.

Each of the Compass students receives potentially life-changing study, with support from academic mentors. 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.

Birkbeck’s Widening Access team has worked with a number of organisations and supporters, including AlixPartners Foundation, Allen & Overy and Blanes Trust, to create the project which places people on undergraduate or postgraduate certificate courses of their choice. Donations totalling £140,000 from a mixture companies, trusts and individual donors have helped to finance the project.

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