Access to education

United Kingdom

Author

Refugee Council

Education is compulsory for children from 5 to 16. This includes children seeking asylum, who attend mainstream schools local to where they live under the same conditions, formally, as other children in their area. However, destitution may affect their access to education. For instance, children on s.4 support are not entitled to free school meals or other benefits and yet have no cash to pay for school meals. There are not generally preparatory classes to facilitate access. If children seeking asylum have special educational needs these may be assessed and met as for other children.

There is no explicit legal bar to asylum seekers entering into higher or further education, but the barriers are financial since in addition to the high fees and lack of access to loans they also have no access to mainstream benefits or work. Indeed, the UK maintains different provisions for 'home' students and 'overseas' students for further and higher education. Regulations permit universities to charge higher fees to overseas students than to home students.1 The regulations do not compel universities to charge these higher fees, but government subsidy is only paid for home students, and so for economic reasons universities charge the higher fees. Asylum seekers are routinely classed as overseas students, and are thus liable to pay overseas student fees for university education of £8,500 to £29,000 per year. This is prohibitive generally for someone seeking asylum.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland some universities have agreed to treat asylum seekers (generally on a limited individual basis) as home students. However, there has been a judicial development in relation to education costs for young people who have been in local authority care. The Court of Appeal held that there is a duty on a local authority to make a grant for educational expenses as part of its support to a child leaving its care, to the extent that the child’s educational needs require this. The court held that their immigration status was relevant to their need. The resources of the local authority were not relevant.2

In Scotland, the child of an asylum seeker or a young asylum seeker (under 25) is treated as a home student if they meet a set of residence conditions including 3 years residence in Scotland.3

If a person is eligible under the regulations to pay ‘home’ fees, it is worth checking the relevant student support regulations. Student support is governed by ordinary residence in the country where they have been living, not where the educational institution is. So someone could be a 'home' fee payer if studying in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, but if ordinarily resident in England before moving to undertake their course, they would not be eligible for any student support at all when they claim it (from Student Finance England) in England.4 Even where a university agrees to treat an asylum seeker as a home student, that person may still need finances to pay the fees. The UK Council for International Student Affairs gives advice and information on student finance and fee status.5

As explained in the section on unaccompanied child asylum seekers, young people whose asylum claim has not been resolved are commonly given discretionary leave. They may apply to extend this before their 18th birthday, and so may be applying to higher education while still on discretionary leave. Young people in this position are also treated as overseas students. This can impose obstacles on young people who have sought asylum and are leaving local authority care.6

Under certain conditions asylum seekers are treated as home students for the purposes of further education. In England, this is so for those aged 16 to 18, or who have been waiting for a Home Office decision for more than six months, or who are on s.4 support or other statutory assistance. In Wales those on asylum support are treated as home students. In Northern Ireland asylum seekers and their families are treated as home students.7 In Scotland, the conditions are as for higher education, and in addition full-time English courses for speakers of other languages and other part-time courses may be taken by asylum seekers as home students. One effect is that in England there is a six month wait for eligibility for free English classes.

In addition to financial difficulties, language, interrupted education due to experiences as a refugee, and incompatibility of educational systems and qualifications may all be barriers to access to further and higher education.

  • 1. The Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 SI 779 reg.4; The Education (Fees and Awards) (Wales) Regulations 2007 SI 2310 reg.4. The residence requirements in England are mitigated by Supreme Court judgment in R (on the application of Tigere) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills UKSC [2015] 57 which held that the English requirement for the applicant to be settled (i.e. have indefinite leave to remain) was discriminatory and unlawful. Other residence requirements remain in place.
  • 2. R (Kebede) v Newcastle City Council [2013] EWCA Civ 960.
  • 3. The Higher Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 SI 389 Reg. 4 and Schedule 1.
  • 4. The residence requirements for access to student loans in England are mitigated by Supreme Court judgment in R (on the application of Tigere) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2015] UKSC 57 which held that the English requirement for the applicant to be settled (i.e. have indefinite leave to remain) was discriminatory and unlawful. Other residence requirements remain in place.
  • 5. Available at: http://bit.ly/1xWsqix.
  • 6. STAR, How to Campaign for Equal Access: a Guide, available at: http://bit.ly/1Lv3DUQ.
  • 7. Department of Employment and Learning, Circular FE 15/12.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti