Free university courses offered to refugees and asylum seekers

The University of East London campus, where refugees will be offered free courses   Pic: Richard Durley (Flickr)

Refugees and asylum seekers are being invited to study free short courses at the University of East London from April.

Part of the aim of the East London-based university’s new Open Learning Initiative (OLIve), is to provide information and training skills required for an individual to then apply to further courses such as Foundation studies at university.

A report by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) states that globally only one per cent of refugees seeking higher education study at a higher level.

The concept, originally developed by the Central European University in Budapest, aims to provide a varied range of short courses which, although not accredited at UEL, will provide students with relevant skills and tools, enabling them to proceed into higher education and/or work.

The initiative was recently extended to other EU universities after its creation in Budapest.

Aura Lounasmaa, lecturer in Social Sciences and overseer of the initiative at the University of East London told Eastlondonlines: “We will assist students to find the best options for them, introduce academic subjects, research and study skills and IT.

“Much of the focus is on English language, both for those more advanced and those needing a boost in their skills.”

Lounasmaa, who was previously involved in a programme teaching courses in the Calais jungle, said that funding for the programme comes from the Erasmus+ programme and will run in partnership with the University of Vienna and the European Network Against Racism.

Graffiti in the Calais Jungle where Lounasmaa taught refugee students. Pic: Aura Lounasmaa


The OLIve scheme will also provide advice and information regarding other educational pathways and opportunities open to the students.

Lounasmaa said: “We feel it’s important to provide as much help to students from forced migration backgrounds who wish to continue their studies.

“And we do this through our own advice centre and through other UK-based universities and organisations who work with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.”

Academics have been calling on UK universities to provide more support for refugees and asylum seekers.

Just last year, academics from various institutions across the UK wrote an open letter to university vice-chancellors, calling for them to create undergraduate bursaries and scholarships for students fleeing violence and war.

Although the initial OLIve at the University of East London does not guarantee candidates straight eligibility to apply for higher education courses, there are already plans for a further 10-month programme beginning in September.

Known as the Open Learning Initiative-UP, this extended course will focus specifically on university preparation with students on this programme being eligible to apply for BA/BSc courses at the university.

The second phase of the programme (OLIve-UP) will see offers of eight free places on the UEL existing Social Sciences foundation programme made to eligible students.

However, Lounasmaa said there was still “a long way to go” in terms of UK provision of higher education to students from forced migration backgrounds.

Goldsmiths, University of London announced in October 2015 their plans to offer six new scholarships specifically for refugees. The new initiative, outlined in this article, will cover both tuition and accommodation fees, along with on-going English language classes for those who need them.

Similarly, the University of York announced they will be introducing two Equal Opportunity scholarships in the upcoming school year, which will include a full tuition fee waiver for the recipient.

Registration for the programme, which begins on April 29, 2017, is open now and registration forms can be accessed from Aura Lounasmaa by email at


One Response

  1. Noble Omoniruvbe August 16, 2017

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