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Refugee Scholarships Vague but Hopeful

Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish

On the 25th September, SOAS announced that they would be providing 7 new scholarships for refugees at an undergraduate and postgraduate level in time for the next academic year. Two days prior to the announcement, The SOAS Spirit had published an article containing comments from Students’ Union Co-President Hannah Slydel criticising the school’s hypocritical position on refugees.

Slydel was quoted as saying the school’s proposal that ‘refugees [are] welcome’ at SOAS was nothing more than empty words. This comment came after the school suggested the use of a ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner during Freshers’ Week, despite its contracts with MITIE (which runs immigration detention centres) and ISS (which was complicit in the deportation of 9 cleaners from SOAS in 2009).

SOAS appears now to be hitting back against this negative image by providing these scholarships. Refugees will be able to apply for four undergraduate scholarships and three postgraduate scholarships. Though the funds are available to students from any department, potential students are considered only on the basis of their academic potential or previous achievement, not on the basis of economic hardship or risk evaluation.

The scholarships will cover full tuition fees and will be financed from the school budget. The university is pursuing crowd funding options in order to finance the costs of living. Students will also be able to apply for a £7,500 Excellence Bursary (spread over 3 years) and hardship funds. These scholarships expand on the existing Cultures of Resistance scholarships which apply to postgraduate students from conflict regions.

The SOAS Spirit asked SOAS who it believes constitutes a refugee, and therefore who would be awarded with such a scholarship. More specifically, we questioned whether the school would include within this definition those refugees who are not registered as such; do not live in refugee camps or who have already received residency or asylum in the UK or another country. In response, SOAS stated that ‘the School will take a broad approach and all applications will be assessed on a case by case basis.’

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