University of sanctuary status awarded to Birkbeck for its support of refugees and asylum seekers

The College is the first higher education institution in London to receive the award, reflecting its ongoing commitment to the sanctuary community.

Birkbeck is proud to be awarded the title of University of Sanctuary by the City of Sanctuary charity, recognising its significant work with the Compass Project, an award-winning initiative launched in 2016 to break down barriers and support students from a forced migrant background to navigate the process of applying to higher education study. Refugee students are also assisted with other aspects of both academic and general life, including housing and student finance. 

The College has demonstrated a strong commitment to both its refugee students and academics with a number of initiatives, including the Compass Project- currently supporting 27 refugee students; taught programmes and modules exploring migration and exile; and the sponsorship of fellowships through the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) programme. Plans are also being finalised for the release of a film based on the experiences of migrant students. 

Matt Innes, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said, “The founders of the College made it their mission to provide learning opportunities for those who would otherwise have been excluded from education. For nearly two hundred years, this ethos of open access to study at Birkbeck has underpinned our work and the support to our sanctuary communities is very much aligned with that. To be named a University of Sanctuary, and indeed the first London university to receive this award, is both an incredible achievement and an honour; and I commend all of our teams and partners for working tirelessly to deliver programmes to support our refugee students.” 

Maryam Taher, University of Sanctuary co-ordinator, expressed, “We are delighted and proud to have Birkbeck as a member of the Universities of Sanctuary network. The opportunities that the Compass Project has provided and continues to provide to those with a sanctuary background are invaluable. The awarding panel commended the level of staff engagement at Birkbeck extending beyond the project and across the network, showing their genuine commitment to fostering and advocating for an accessible and welcoming environment for those seeking protection.” 

Professor Leslie Topp, Chair of the Compass Steering Committee, added, “It is gratifying to be named a University of Sanctuary, in recognition of the work done across Birkbeck to welcome people seeking sanctuary, to support their studies and research, and to enrich our understanding of migration and exile. We are honoured to be included among the other excellent universities who hold the award and look forward to working with them to ensure that British higher education becomes and remains a welcoming, not a hostile, environment. It is more important than ever that we proudly promote our record of active welcome and support for all students.” 

In view of the ongoing challenges presented for persons from migrant communities, Birkbeck remains committed to being a welcoming institution for its sanctuary communities. The upcoming round of applications for the Compass project opened up earlier this month and students will be offered a comprehensive advice package to consider the best pathway into higher education. 

The University of Sanctuary award is for a duration of three years and currently recognises 22 universities nationwide for demonstrating a commitment to the values of the City of Sanctuary charter: ‘That the UK will be a welcoming place of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.’ 

The award also presents opportunities to collaborate with other organisations engaged in similar work. City of Sanctuary has developed a network to inspire and support universities to develop a culture and a practice of welcome within their own institutions, in their wider communities and across the Higher Education sector in the UK

Source: Birkbeck, University of London

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