Ground-breaking summer school helps refugees to access higher education

11 August 2017

ASPIRE graduates throw hats in the air

Fifty refugees and asylum seekers have graduated from in an innovative new programme, helping them to access higher education in the UK.

Organised by Cardiff University and the Welsh Refugee Council, the six week ASPIRE summer school has been designed to address some of the challenges that refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants face when seeking to return to study.

Many migrants arriving in the UK have left behind established careers. All too often, careers, education and aspirations for the future have been disrupted by the difficult and distressing circumstances – including war, persecution, and conflict – which force people to flee their home countries.

A plan for the future

Common barriers to study include a lack of guidance on how to access education and training, non-recognition of international qualifications, financial constraints, and a lack of access to English classes needed to gain the level of English language skills necessary for study at university level. The trauma of past experiences, coupled with insecurity about the right to remain in the UK, can also make it extremely difficult to have the confidence to plan for the future.

Karen Holford at ASPIRE graduation event

The ASPIRE school has helped the students to overcome some of these obstacles through providing intensive English classes and academic taster courses, inspirational trips and tours to help boost the confidence of those taking part, and expert advice on how to apply to university. Taster courses included Business Management, Peer Mentoring and Coaching, and Public Service Interpreting for Health.

Supported by their participation in the programme, a number of participants have secured opportunities to study at universities within the UK, including unconditional offers to study courses at postgraduate level.

Khalid, a 23 year old civil engineer from Khartoum, Sudan previously worked as a teaching assistant and site engineer before coming to the UK nine months ago. With aspirations to become a professional designer, he enrolled in the summer school in an effort to improve his academic English, and has several offers to study for an MSc in Structural Engineering.

An enormous help

Speaking ahead of the graduation ceremony, Khalid said: “The Summer School has been an enormous help in allowing me to improve my English, and a huge boost to my confidence. Thanks to the friendly and accommodating tutors, I now feel comfortable working with academic material through the English language. I’m now looking forward to taking the next steps in my career as a designer, and building a new future for myself.”

Cardiff University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen Holford, said: “The ASPIRE Summer School is yet another brilliant initiative as part of our commitment to support asylum seekers and refugees, and is an important element of our endeavour to recruit and retain the brightest students from all backgrounds...”

“It’s fantastic to see that the programme has already made a difference in helping some of those taking part to access higher education, and on behalf of Cardiff University I want to offer my congratulations to each and every participant on their achievement.”

Professor Karen Holford, Professor

A source of pride

Salah Mohamed, Chief Executive of the Welsh Refugee Council added: “Congratulations to all the learners graduating. Welsh Refugee Council is very proud of all the graduates and is happy to see the real difference the ASPIRE Summer School has made to sanctuary seekers in Wales. We are hopeful that students will use their new skills to reach their full potential. We are grateful to all funders and partners who worked very hard to achieve this amazing accomplishment.”

Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams said: “I have been delighted to hear of the success of the ASPIRE summer school programme and offer my congratulations, and appreciation, to all involved...”

“Our national mission is to open up opportunities for all, regardless of background, and in ensuring we have an education system that is a source of pride, both here and around the world.”

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Education

The ASPIRE Summer School has been made possible thanks to the support of a number of organisations, including funding generously provided by the Pears Foundation and Waterloo Foundation. Ede and Ravenscroft kindly donated academic ceremonial wear for use during the ceremony.

Share this story

Students around a laptop

University for all

We are dedicated to promoting equality across the University. Our whole community benefits from having a diverse and talented student population.