Staff Conference 2022: Kent’s journey towards becoming a University of Sanctuary

Article from Dr Thomas Parkinson

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, asylum seekers crossing the Channel daily in unsafe and hostile conditions, and almost 90 million displaced people worldwide in 2021, forced migration has become a defining challenge of our times. As a university at the heart of a border county, and with a strong tradition of civic and community engagement, we believe the University of Kent has a key role to play in leading debate, research, and advocacy.

Our Migration and Movement Signature Research Theme builds on this institutional commitment. Since its launch in September 2021, our SRT has grown an active network of researchers from across the University’s Divisions, promoting an inclusive and interdisciplinary research culture and raising the University’s profile as a leading hub of expertise in this area. We’ve also built and strengthened partnerships with charities, NGOs, and businesses nationally and internationally.

Migration and Movement is proud to be leading Kent’s application to become a University of Sanctuary, part of a national movement that looks to build welcoming communities for displaced and vulnerable people seeking sanctuary from persecution.

As an institution, we are already doing a great deal to develop our campuses as places of welcome, safety and inclusion. Our Article 26 scholarships provide places and funding for refugees and asylum seekers to study at Kent each year. We support CARA (Council for At Risk Academics) and its work to provide urgent assistance to academics in danger or forced into exile. We are supporting Kherson State University in the Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine through the national twinning initiative, and participating in local activities through Canterbury for Ukraine to welcome Ukrainians settling in our area. Our pioneering Kent Law Clinic has for many years provided much-needed legal services to support asylum seekers in their quest for settled status.

But the University of Sanctuary process calls on us to do more – to examine our weaknesses as well as our strengths, to develop further support for those seeking sanctuary, and to bring a ‘whole university’ approach to bear on ensuring our institution is truly a welcoming place for all.

A Steering Group was set up earlier this summer to formally launch our Sanctuary journey. This academic year, we are commissioning a consultation with students, staff, and members of the local community with lived experience of seeking sanctuary to inform the University’s commitments and objectives. Working through the Migration and Movement theme, the University will engage in a wide range of Sanctuary-related activities in 2022/23, including policy and advocacy work and hosting series of cross-disciplinary open lectures on migration.

I’m delighted to be presenting on these activities, and on our application to become a University of Sanctuary, at this week’s staff conference.  I’ll outline what the application process means for the University, and how you can become involved. Come along and find out more on Thursday afternoon (3.30 – 4.15) in the Templeman Lecture Theatre (and on Teams).

For further information on the staff conference programme, visit our webpage.