Comment: Refugees need our help and Sheffield is stepping up

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, discusses how the University is supporting refugee students and scholars, in a comment piece published in the Sheffield Telegraph.

Firth Court building with red ivy

Written by Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, in the Sheffield Telegraph.

Refugees have been in the news a lot recently – from the wars in Ukraine, Sudan and Syria, to the political debate on how to provide safe routes to the UK.

One thing that should not be lost in the coverage and debate is the impact that these conflicts and crises are having on people. Of course, there are domestic issues that need to be addressed but, while we tackle them, we also need to do what we can to help people who are fleeing war and persecution overseas. 

People in Sheffield know this, as the city has long been at the forefront of the UK’s humanitarian efforts. Sheffield became the UK’s first City of Sanctuary in 2007 and, more recently, people across the city have been opening up their homes to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The University of Sheffield was founded to help the people of Sheffield, and this mission remains at the heart of our institution. However, we have also grown to become a global university, so it is important that we do what we can to join the rest of the city in helping those in need around the world.

That is why we launched our University of Sanctuary initiative - a series of projects and schemes to help people who are fleeing war and persecution across the globe. Education and research are at the core of what we do at the University, so we are using these to try and make a difference to those affected by these terrible events.

We have created Sanctuary Scholarships to help students who have been displaced by conflict continue their studies. These cover the cost of tuition for each year of study and provide support with living costs. We have already helped 40 students with this programme and applications for the coming academic year are open.

Our English Language Teaching Centre has also provided scholarships to students seeking sanctuary in the UK or who are affected by war in their home country. These scholarships have helped refugee students learn English - a key language in global higher education. Over the last year, we have supported students from Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Honduras.

However, we know that not everyone affected by war and persecution is able to flee, or wants to leave their own country, and they are still in need of help. We have launched projects as part of our sanctuary initiative to try and support these people. 

The University has formed a twinning partnership with a university in Kyiv to help their staff and students who are still in the Ukrainian capital. The aim of this partnership is to enable Ukrainian students and academics to continue their studies, as well as ensure their university survives the conflict so it can help the country rebuild once the war is over.

Since we twinned with Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI), we have donated £20,000 to help the University rebuild its air raid shelter so the institution can remain open. We have given KPI students access to our online library facilities to support their studies and Sheffield Students’ Union has joined up with KPI’s Students’ Union to lend its support. Academics from Sheffield have launched research projects with their Ukrainian counterparts, and we are donating high performance computers and lab equipment so KPI can continue its research activities.

The war in Ukraine is being widely covered by the UK media, but at Sheffield we know there are other conflicts and crises around the world from which people are suffering and it is important we help them too. 

Our English Language Teaching Centre is working with the Rahela Trust charity to deliver confidence-building English language lessons to women in Afghanistan. The lessons are delivered using mobile phones, including interactive self-study lessons and live one-to-one audio conversations with a tutor. Following the success of the course, the project is now looking at ways to support other women in the region. 

We have launched a Young Changemakers project, in which experts from our Management School are training young people displaced by wars around the world to become future leaders of their communities. Our University also works with the Council for At-Risk Academics to support its work in providing urgently-needed help to academics in immediate danger, those forced into exile, and the many who choose to work in their home countries despite serious risks.

Back home in Sheffield we are continuing to look at what else we can do as part of our sanctuary work. Education can have a huge, transformative impact on people’s lives, so we will keep using it to do what we can to help those in need.


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