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UEL to offer pioneering EU-funded course for refugees and asylum seekers

Aerial view of UEL Docklands Campus

UEL builds on proud history of helping refugees to access higher education

Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK will have the chance to transform their lives thanks to a new pathway to higher education being offered by the University of East London (UEL).

The University has joined with several partners across Europe to offer a free, new short course known as the Open Learning Initative (OLIve) that will give refugees and asylum seekers the educational grounding to progress to a foundation course and ultimately a full bachelor degree.

The OLIve course, funded by a 440,000 Euro grant from the EU’s Erasmus+ programme, is a joint initiative between UEL, the University of Vienna, the Central European University (CEU) in Hungary and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

All three universities are running similar access courses and developing guidelines and best practices with guidance from ENAR.

The new course builds on UEL’s reputation as a leader in refugee education and issues with a proud history of supporting refugees' entry to higher education.

Many refugees live in east London, which for 400 years – since the arrival of Huguenot migrants – has been the ‘refugee capital’ of Europe.

The University is home to the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging and hosts the Refugee Council Archive – the most important collection worldwide of books, journals, reports and films on forced migration.

This year marks the 20th anniversary since UEL began offering a master’s degree in refugee studies and last year it pioneered a ‘University for all’ higher education short course, which ran in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp from October 2015 to October 2016. 

Students of the course have contributed to a book, ‘Voices from the Jungle’, due to be published in April 2017 by Pluto, and a film called 'The Bridge', which was screened at last year’s London East Film Festival. 

Dr Aura Lounasmaa, a lecturer at UEL’s School of Social Sciences, was part of the small academic team who worked in Calais and will oversee the new OLIve programme.

“The OLIve programme will build on our specialism and postgraduate degree in refugee studies, our experiences on the ground in Calais and our commitment to civic engagement and widening participation,” said Dr Lounasmaa. 

“We know that there is a real demand of educational support among refugees, who are often unable to access paid work and formal education or apply for financial support."

“All European countries are currently hosting exceptionally high numbers of refugees, so it’s particularly important that we have partnered with other European universities and organisations to share knowledge and experience.”  

Under the OLIve programme, UEL will offer an initial short course that will be taught on Saturdays from 29 April to 1 July at its campuses in east London. The course, which is free of charge, will give refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to learn the essential skills need to progress towards higher education.

Forty places are available on the course, which will provide seminars and workshops in higher education reading and writing, English language for academic purposes, computer skills and issues around social sciences, migration, and globalisation. 

Organisations working with refugees such as Refugee Support Network, Star Network and various others are invited to attend teaching days to meet course participants and offer advice on a range of issues affecting their lives.

In September, UEL will provide the next stage in the educational pathway when it launches its ten-month OLIve Up programme.

This more advanced course is based on the University’s existing foundation programme, giving students a Level 3 foundation qualification that will offer a stepping stone to studying for a full bachelor degree.

In addition, UEL is in contact with Article 26 – project that coordinates bursaries for people from forced migration backgrounds – to explore funding options for bachelor degree study. UEL is also in touch with other UK universities about degree opportunities for OLIve students.

To find out more and apply, email Dr Aura Lounasmaa at