Access to education

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 24/04/24


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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 Section 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.

The first major national research into the educational outcomes of children who are asylum seekers was published in 2021; one of its findings was that unaccompanied children lag about 3 years on average behind their UK counterparts.[1]

There is no bar on asylum seekers entering into education.[2] In 2019 the Home Office conceded a judicial challenge establishing that there should not be a general bar on refused asylum seekers accessing education.[3] The guidance was updated to reflect this, and provides for a condition prohibiting study to be placed on a refused asylum seeker only where considered necessary in an individual case.[4]

There are no accelerated education programmes for out of school youth. In England 15 hours per week of free childcare are available for children aged from two to four, where the parent is in receipt of asylum support.[5] Scotland offers 30 hours per week early learning and childcare for two to four year olds.[6] Wales offers 12.5 hours per week of childcare to two and three year olds who live in disadvantaged areas.[7] In Northern Ireland there is some practical support available to children under four living in disadvantaged areas and 12.5 hours weekly free childcare for three and four year olds.[8]

Higher and further education

Whilst children are entitled to access free school education, the barriers for adults in further and higher education are financial since (other than in Scotland) 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.[9] The regulations do not compel universities to charge these higher fees, but a 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 (approx. between € 9,900 – € 33,780). This is prohibitive generally for someone seeking asylum.

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.[10]

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland some universities have agreed to treat asylum seekers (generally on a limited individual basis) as home students. 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.[11] 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 United Kingdom Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) gives advice and information on student finance and fee status.[12]

Under certain conditions asylum seekers are treated as home students for the purposes of further education. In England, this is the case 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 Section 4 support or other statutory assistance.[13] In Wales those on asylum support are treated as home students. In Northern Ireland asylum seekers and their families are treated as home students.[14] In Scotland, the conditions are as for higher education,[15] and in addition full-time English courses for speakers of other languages (ESOL) 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. Research conducted in 2019 reported upon the practical barriers and provides a summary of the changes in ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) provision in recent years.[16]

As explained in Identification, young people whose asylum claim is refused are commonly given ‘UASC leave’ which is not refugee status. They may apply to extend this before their 18th birthday, and so may be applying to higher education while still on UASC 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.

Some financial support is provided to those who are over 18 but were formerly an unaccompanied asylum seeking child until they are 21 or 25 if still in education.[17]

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.[18]




[1] Education Policy Institute, The educational outcomes of refugee and asylum-seeking children in England, 2 December 2021, available at:

[2] Home Office, Immigration Bail, November 2023, available at:

[3] Duncan Lewis Solicitors, ‘Home Office concedes unlawful imposition of study restriction as a bail condition on individuals who are ‘appeals rights exhausted’, November 2019, available at:

[4] Home Office, Immigration Bail, November 2023, available at:

[5] Maternity Action, ‘No recourse to public funds – money for parents and babies, August 2023, available at:

[6] Working Families, ‘Scotland – Free childcare for childcare aged 2, 3 & 4’, accessed 24 March 2024, available at:   

[7] Welsh government, ‘Get help from Flying Start’, accessed 24 March 2024, available at:  

[8] Day Nurseries, ‘A guide to free childcare in Northern Ireland for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds’, 9 January 2024, available at:

[9] Reg. 4 Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 SI 779; Reg. 4 Education (Fees and Awards) (Wales) Regulations 2007 SI 2310. 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.

[10] Reg. 4 Schedule 1 Higher Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 SI 389.

[11] 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.

[12] UKCISA, Home or overseas fees: the basics, last modified 13 May 2022, available at:

[13] UKCISA, ‘England: HE fee status’, 20 February 2024, available at:  

[14] Circular FE 15/12 of the Department of Employment and Learning.

[15] Scottish government, ‘Further and higher education – residency criteria for access to financial support: consultation analysis’, 12 May 2023, available at:

[16] Refugee Action, Turning words into action, June 2019, available at:

[17] Home Office, Leaving care funding instructions to local authorities 2023 to 2024, 22 September 2023, available at:

[18] Refugee Support Network, “I just want to study”: Access to Higher Education for Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers, February 2012, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection