Getting to university is a huge achievement, and even more so for young people who come to the UK as refugees and asylum seekers.

These students face many barriers to achieving their goals – not least, learning English as a second language – yet their stories are proof that with the right support and determination, higher education is not out of reach.

Here we speak to three inspirational students who came to the UK as UASC’s (unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee minors) about their journey to university with support from the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN).

Rishan’s Story

Rishan came to the UK as a refugee at the age of 16. Originally from Eritrea in Eastern Africa, she was raised in Sudan.

After settling into life with a foster family, she began pursuing her goal of getting to university.

Rishan said, “My journey towards university started when I came to the UK as a refugee, and I began learning with my foster carer. She is the one who improved my English and pushed me towards my goal. I always wanted to go to university and graduate and become an adult nurse. I am passionate about health, and I wanted to work closely with people to help and support them.

“At that time, I used to understand a bit of English, but I knew that I needed to improve myself, so I went to Canterbury College.

“I started learning English and Maths and some IT skills then I took vocational courses in Health and Social Care at Level 1 and Level 2. I couldn’t progress to Level 3 as I didn’t have GCSE Maths and English, so I had to step out and focus on getting good results in Maths and English. I didn’t pass the first time, so I had to do it again and while doing these two subjects I also did a Level 2 Science course. It took me a long time and hard work to pass both GCSEs.

“After that I started a Foundation course at Canterbury Christ Church University and now, I am doing a degree in Adult Nursing.

“I am still finding it hard because writing in an academic way and having English as a second language is challenging for me. However, these barriers don’t stop me from what I want to achieve in the future. It’s all learning and I enjoy learning new things and I cannot wait to be a nurse and work in the NHS.”

Daniel’s Story

Daniel came to the UK in May 2015 from Eritrea at the age of 15.

He was enrolled at a secondary school in Kent but without good English language skills struggled with GCSEs. In 2016 he started at Dover East Kent College and enrolled on a Level 1 Motor Vehicle course, alongside qualifications in Maths and English.

Daniel said, “The journey wasn’t easy; I was struggling a lot. I wasn’t sure what course I need to take. I only knew about Doctor and Engineering courses. Every time people asked me what course I was going to do, I used to say Doctor or Engineering.

“When I finished school, I was applying to different colleges and for different courses. However, I didn’t have good grades, so, the only options for me were courses in motor mechanics, construction or childcare.

“My dream was to go to university and make my whole family proud because none of them has been to university. When I spoke to my course tutor and explained how much I wanted to go to university, he explained I could do a course in motor mechanics that would allow me to eventually progress onto university to do engineering.

“Once I finished the Level 2 Motor Vehicle course, I changed into Motor Sport so that is more to do with engineering. I also took Maths GCSE and Level 2 English.

“As part of my course, I did work experience with DFDS. Me and another student from the college worked there for one week and at the end of the week, they offered us a job as an apprentice. My classmate took it, but I turned it down because my dream was to go to university.

“After finishing the Level 3 Motor Sport course, I started a Foundation course in Mechanical Engineering at Kingston University and then switched to a degree in Business Management at Canterbury Christ Church University.

I believe having lots of work experience helped me to get to university. It shows how passionate I am.”

Osama’s Story

Osama moved to Jordan because of the war in Syria when he was only 15 years old. His plan was to complete his studies and go to university in Jordan, but because of the difficulties, refugees were not allowed to work or enter higher education.

Osama and his family were stuck in Jordan for seven years until an opportunity came about through the UN for him to come to the UK.

Osama said, “I was excited to come to the UK and have the opportunity to complete my education here. I still had to work on my English. When I came to England in my first year, I learnt basic English and took Level 2 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes.

“I found the ESOL classes difficult, and with the Covid pandemic and lockdown, there weren’t enough opportunities to improve my English. I worked extremely hard myself and managed to achieve adult qualifications in English and maths in the summer of 2020.

“I then applied to Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) to do a Computer Science course with Foundation Year and was accepted.

“Studying at university is both exciting and challenging because I am learning everything in English, not Arabic, so I have to work hard and do research on my own at home to broaden my knowledge and understand what my lecturers want from me.”

“It’s an amazing, joyful feeling to be at university, it’s something I can’t really describe, especially how proud my parents and brothers were of me when I told them.”

The Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) works with separated young refugees and asylum seekers also known as UASC’s (unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee minors). These are young people aged 16 to 24 who have arrived in Kent alone and are claiming asylum. KRAN provides them with a safe, positive space supporting them to succeed.

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Lucy King

5 Jan 2022

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