Photo of group of 30 men walking through the bluebell woods on University of Kent campus

Exploring Higher Education and Looking Towards the Future: Asylum Seekers Warmly Welcomed at Kent

I was delighted to welcome 38 residents and friends from the Napier Barracks in Folkestone to our Canterbury campus this week, to provide information on opportunities for continued education if and when they are granted leave to remain. The group of young men came from over 10 different countries and spoke a mixture of languages, interpreting amongst themselves for those with less English fluency, with some additional translation provided by Kent staff. Having interrupted higher education studies and specialised jobs when they fled their home countries to seek asylum in the UK, they were keen to see first hand what an educational experience here might be like and how they could access it.

[Photo above shows Admissions talk on getting a place at University]

Encouragement and practical guidance

Their visit began in the Templeman Library, and included a welcome from two of our first year Sanctuary Scholarship students, themselves refugees, who are now thriving at the University of Kent. They encouraged others to hold fast through the demoralising uncertainty and continue to reach for their ambitions of completing or beginning studies in the UK. Colleagues from our Admissions and Visa Compliance teams were able to provide guidance on entry requirements, personal statements, application processes and English courses. They were also able to give time to addressing individual queries on next steps to re-enter education or validate their qualifications to seek employment here.

[Photo above shows individual consultations on qualifications and next steps]

Enjoying the campus together

The atmosphere was joyful as we shared a hot meal in the Rutherford Dining Hall, some played pool and others chatted, enjoying the impromptu piano playing of a student and the views of the vast open space that surrounds our campus. We then walked around campus, through the bluebell woods and to the Kent Community Oasis Garden, where language barriers fell away when everyone was invited to get their hands in the soil and plant bulbs and seeds. A participant told me what a stark and beautiful contrast it was to be surrounded by so much countryside, and experience novelty and a sense of freedom and agency, after 9 weeks in limbo in the barracks.

As we discussed the patience required to make things grow and our volatile UK climate, we were reminded of the precarity of life in detention as an asylum seeker, of how much is out of their control. And yet, if we plant seeds, if we look with hope towards the future and nurture what is in our power to sustain, we might one day see growth and new life.

[Photo above shows planting activity in Kent Community Oasis Garden]

Making a lasting difference

The gratitude and positivity from the group was effusive, they were really happy to have spent a day being considered as individuals with a past involving expertise and academic interest, and a future of possibility and hope.

“Thank you so much for a beautiful welcome, we are so glad to be here.”

“Everyone has been so kind and so helpful. I have ideas about what I could do, I really want to study and learn.”

[Photo above participants enjoying lunch at Rutherford Dining Hall]

Help us give more hope

Huge thanks to YMS Travel who generously offered free return transportation for this group from Folkestone to Canterbury, as a supporter of the University Sanctuary Fund.

We’re working to expand our programme of Exploring Higher Education days for asylum seekers in the region, to share our university knowledge, expertise and facilities in a way that can inspire and inform people with an uncertain future and help them to realise their dreams in the UK.

Would you like to be part of this initiative in some way? Email us at to talk about sponsoring or supporting, or volunteering to contribute to organisation, interpretation and activities at the University of Kent, so together we can really show our compassion in action and declare whole-heartedly: refugees welcome.