A University of Sanctuary
The University of Sanctuary scheme, which aims to make everyone feel welcome and demonstrate how an education can turn life chances around, has a long history. This attitude was firmly established by the Attenborough family who worked tirelessly in their lives to support refugees. During the Second World War, refugee students and academics were welcomed into the university, including Dr Felix Rosenthal from Germany. In the 1950s, Hungarian students were supported to leave behind the Iron Curtain. That legacy continues.
Another refugee to feel the benefit of today’s language courses is journalist and human rights activist Jumana Yahya, an Iraqi citizen who fled to London in 2020 after taking part in a demonstration in Baghdad supporting freedom of speech and women and children’s rights. Militia broke up the protest and branded all participants as working on behalf of outside states such as the US and UK. She feared for her life.
“The day I left Iraq, I was so scared,” she says. “So many activists and journalists have been killed for standing up for what they believed in. Although it was a relief to finally reach the airport and leave the danger behind, my heart was heavy.”
Improving her English language skills is crucial for her ability to continue to work outside her home country. “As a journalist, [at its] core is to write, read, speak and listen,” she says. “Language is an essential tool, like a dentist who uses tools to examine patients. Although my native language is Arabic, I need English to read global and western journals, which are a rich source for the news.”
Yahya graduated with a degree in English while still in Iraq, but when she arrived in the UK it had been eight years since she studied and she did not have the chance to practise her language skills in the interim. Using the remote learning course she was able to bring her English up to an academic standard, allowing her to enrol in a masters degree in international relations at Leicester, also with the support of a Sanctuary scholarship. As she put it: “You know this kind of study depends on language and the ability of the student to absorb the language and the information. I can say the language course equipped me with the knowledge.” She is now studying for a Masters with the goal of doing a PhD - and returning to her work as a journalist.
The University has also offered support to refugee medical professionals by offering free places on courses to prepare doctors/pharmacists and nurses to take an Occupational Education Test (OET). This is the first step in helping them to retrain and gain employment in the NHS. The University works with organisations such as RefuAid and Growing Points to offer opportunities for training and mentoring from UK doctors and others with experience to ease their transition into the NHS.