Homes for Ukraine – laying the foundations for university refugee sponsorship

King's College London has been working on a university led sponsorship scheme for refugees from Ukraine. Bronwyn Parry and Leonie Ansems de Vries hope it could provide a model for the wider HE sector

Bronwyn Parry is professor of global health and social medicine and director of the King’s Sanctuary Programme at King’s College London


Leonie Ansems de Vries is a reader in international politics, chair of the Migration Research Group, and co-director of the King's Sanctuary Programme at King’s College London

As we saw with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine has mobilised the HE sector to action, with many universities setting up donation schemes, offering scholarships and providing expert knowledge.

While the circumstances are distressing, these responses have been a welcome reminder of our compassion and strength as a sector. The magnitude of the crisis has, however, also increased the demand for a scaled cross-sectoral HE response.

As part of our commitment to delivering positive social impact King’s College London has worked with Citizens UK, a people power alliance of diverse local communities working together for the common good, since 2017. This has included Citizens UK accrediting King’s as the UK’s first “Refugees Welcome” university in 2020.

We are drawing on this work, our strong partnership with Citizens UK, and our research expertise on migration and forced displacement to develop a sponsorship model for UK universities to best implement the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme across the HE sector.

Our work with refugees

Since 2015, our Sanctuary programme has developed several groundbreaking projects for delivering educational opportunities to refugee learners, such as the Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) which delivers blended education to refugee students displaced in Jordan and Lebanon by the Syrian war. The PADILEIA programme has supported over 13,000 self-identifying refugees and disadvantaged young people from the host communities, with more than one million learners enrolled on one of the PADILEIA courses worldwide.

Out of that project and our continued research came a further ambition: to try and create safe, legal, education-led pathways into Europe for people seeking protection. Working in partnership with Citizens UK, the UNHCR and the Home Office we identified a possible way to realise that ambition – by enabling King’s to become the first university to be accredited as a Community Sponsor under the UK Refugee Community Sponsorship Scheme. This allowed King’s to act as the host community for a displaced refugee student and their family.

We set up a dedicated volunteer team from across the King’s community who secured housing for the family and have offered them wrap-around support since their arrival in December 2021, including accessing healthcare, school registration, benefits advice and English language support. We are delighted that the eldest daughter of the family will start a fully funded degree in engineering at King’s in September 2022.

Supported by an ESRC impact acceleration grant, we have, over the past year, used our expertise on sponsorship to work with universities across the UK who are interested in becoming refugee sponsors. The crisis in Ukraine has made the rapid scaling of this work extremely urgent and prompted the idea of developing a version of the Homes for Ukraine scheme tailored specifically for universities.

Homes for Ukraine

This dovetailed with Citizens UK’s ambition to host 1,000 displaced Ukrainians in the UK by bringing together partners from across HE, business, schools and faith organisations. Drawing on our expertise, King’s has worked with partner organisations to develop a model for how the Homes for Ukraine scheme might be implemented by universities to support students and academics.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme is focused on placing Ukrainians in suitable accommodation for six months. Our university refugee sponsorship model offers more: our partnering organisations, which includes Refugee Education UK, will use their shared experience and resources to identify displaced students and ascertain their current programmes of study. Refugee students can then be matched with universities that offer a similar degree course to that from which they were displaced.

Students will have the opportunity to stay engaged with their studies, for instance by sitting in on modules and accessing online courses. Participating universities will have access to a portal of resources and guidance to facilitate successful hosting of displaced students and scholars, including with respect to their safety and wellbeing.

King’s also continues to work with the Council for At Risk Academics (CARA) to match applicants with relevant departments, welcoming academics at risk from anywhere in the world and providing support where the need is greatest.

We hope that the university refugee sponsorship model will create a workable blueprint and a set of useful resources for universities who would like to host Ukrainian students and academics. For us, it is part of a long-term commitment to developing accessible safe and legal pathways for displaced people from across the globe and, in particular, education-led pathways for resettlement.

We hope to collaborate with universities and other partners from across the UK and beyond to achieve this wider ambition and bring about real and lasting change for people impacted by forced migration and displacement.

This work has been borne out of challenging circumstances, but it highlights the strength of our sector and our communities. The hope is that by working together, we can help to make a positive difference.

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