Sheffield Hallam University has signed a pledge to continue and expand its provision of support for refugees and people seeking sanctuary across all areas of higher education.

The pledge, which has been brought forward by City of Sanctuary and STAR (Student Action for Refugees), states Sheffield Hallam’s commitment to the UN Refugee Agency’s goal of 15 per cent of refugees worldwide having access to higher education by 2050.

At the ceremony, Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University also signed a pledge to support Sheffield being recognised as a City of Sanctuary which welcomes and encourages the contribution of asylum-seekers and refugees to the city.

Professor Sir Chris Husbands said: “I’m delighted that Sheffield Hallam is able to make an institutional commitment to providing sanctuary. With only 1% of refugees worldwide accessing higher education, universities have a crucial role to play in extending opportunities and helping those displaced from their homes to rebuild their lives.”

One refugee that Hallam welcomed as an undergraduate student of tourism management in 2008, Shqiperim Reka, is now a lecturer at the university in Sheffield Business School.

Shqiperim moved to Sheffield in 1999 with his parents, fleeing his war-torn home country of Kosovo.

After completing his degree in 2009, he went on to do a masters and a PhD before joining us as a lecturer in 2017.

He says: “If Hallam was a less supportive institution, I wouldn’t have got to this level.

“The members of staff here are incredible; they understood me and helped me get to where I am today.

“I don’t think I would have had the courage or mental strength to convince myself that I was good enough to do a Master’s or PhD without them.”

Also present at the ceremony was Dr Reverend Inderjit Bhogal OBE, the founder and president of City of Sanctuary UK who was previously chaplain at the University and received an honorary doctorate in 2002.

He said: “To see the University moving in this direction is a real delight.

“It’s about doing all we can to enable those who are utterly deserving of a higher education, but can’t access or afford it, the chance to study and build a future for themselves.”

This year, two students, from Iran and Zimbabwe, were successful in their applications for a Sheffield Hallam University Sanctuary scholarship – a scheme which helps asylum seeker students overcome financial barriers to education by waiving their full tuition fees and providing £4,000 of funding for living costs. The scholarships are jointly funded by the University and through generous donations from former students.

Funding for the scholarships will also come through fundraising by staff, students and alumni at the Sheffield Half Marathon next year.

One student is studying in the faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the other in the faculty of Science, Technology and Arts. Both are currently seeking sanctuary in the UK and hoping that the post graduate qualifications they acquire in Sheffield Hallam University will help them make a greater contribution to the community which has welcomed them.

The Scholarship Panel who met with the students as part of their application for the scholarship were impressed with their determination and resilience and their clear academic ambition and potential to do well on their courses.

Tom Martin, Director of the City of Sanctuary Sheffield said: “We are delighted that Sheffield Hallam has signed these pledges today.

“The work you do to support refugees and asylum seekers is firmly in line with our shared vision of making Sheffield a place where refugees and asylum seekers are not only welcomed, but can thrive and make positive contributions to our communities.

“Sheffield will only become a truly welcoming place for those seeking sanctuary through the ongoing support and concrete commitments of institutions like Sheffield Hallam.  At City of Sanctuary Sheffield we look forward to continuing to work with Sheffield Hallam to make this vision of welcome a reality.”

The University has also pledged its support to the Global Compact for Refugees at the UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland -recognising that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

As well as providing access to higher education locally, Sheffield Hallam University works with the UK charity Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) and is currently supporting two academics identified as at-risk of violence, persecution or repression in their home countries to pursue their research through fully-funded PhD scholarships.

At the University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, the Refugee Family Reunion Clinic gives free advice and guidance to any refugee who has sought refuge in Sheffield and is looking to reunite with family members they have been forced to leave behind.