After launching the successful Our Grades Not Visas campaign, JustCitizens have responded to the Scottish government consultation on funding for further and higher education in Scotland. Read our response here.
This is a topic we feel extremely passionately about as most of our members have been directly impacted by the restrictions previously in place which barred most migrants from being able to access funding to support their education. Some of our members were incredibly worried about the impact of these restrictions would have on their children and highlighted the wider socio-economic effects that stem from unequal access to educational opportunities.
“Connection to Scotland”:
The consultation addressed proposed changes to length of residency required before being able to access further and higher educational funding in Scotland. The proposed criteria for residency was reduced to three years, citing that this length of time sufficiently equated to “connection to Scotland”. Although we welcome the reduction of the residency criteria to 3 years, we would like to question the assumption that people who have lived here for less time do not have a “connection to Scotland”. As a lived-experience panel comprised of New Scots, we want to ensure the term “connection” encapsulates our experiences as well. We believe that “connection” should not be narrowed to the number of years people have lived in Scotland, or whether individuals were born in this country. For us, our connection to Scotland should be also defined by our future here – the possibilities of a new life, the urge to contribute to society in this country, and the desire to make Scotland our home.
Asylum Seekers Access to Further and Higher Education Funding:
One of the key areas we focused on within the consultation was extending access to further and higher education funding to asylum seekers residing in Scotland. We believe this to be vital. One of our members says:
“We need to be given the tools to support ourselves and have something to do while we wait for a decision. We want to better ourselves and contribute to this country, but we are being stopped from doing so. We are not leeches, we are not wanting to just take and take. We want to give back, but we are not allowed to. We want to move on, but we are not allowed to. The current system forces us to be dependent, but then it complains that we are dependent.”
Asylum seekers are currently barred from working and are forced to live off £6 a day. With the roll-out of institutionalised hotel accommodation, along with the introduction of increasingly hostile immigration policies, asylum seekers will continue to be marginalised and pushed to the fringes of society. This will create a space of division and put barriers on integration- something that actively undermines the New Scots refugee integration strategy 2018-2022 put in place by the Scottish Government.
Giving asylum seekers access to education equips them with the necessary tools to be able to take an active role in society when a decision is reached on their asylum case. It also helps provide structure and meaning to individuals who have had their civic rights stripped from them – this can help with combatting the mental health crisis amongst this group. It can provide people with connection, knowledge and skills needed to actively play a role in society.
Additionally, we would like to highlight that as a direct result of the asylum backlog, people are being forced to spend more time in limbo. After putting out Our Grades Not Visas survey, over 25% of 78 respondents had been in the asylum system for over 2 years. This demonstrates the number of people that would be able to access further and higher education funding if the rules were expanded to include them.
We welcome the government’s initiative to improve access to education in Scotland. This is a significant step in the fight against structural inequality within education and will have wider socio-economic impacts that benefit all of us societally. We encourage the government to continue to break down barriers which exclude migrants, and commit to equality, fairness, and inclusion.