#OurGradesNotVisas campaign was conceived, created, implemented and launched last year by Ahmed Alhindi, a young migrant student who was unable to accept the offers he received from several universities in Scotland due to being classified as an international student.
He was not able to pay the fees required to enrol and he felt “isolated”.
However, this challenge didn’t stop him. He decided to ask for help. He contacted us and Maryhill Integration Network to highlight the gap to access higher education for migrant students who have made Scotland their home. He planned a national campaign called #OurGradesNotVisas fighting for the rights of all migrant students and asylum seekers denied access to higher education across the country.
Like Ahmed – who achieved six Higher qualifications and two Advanced Highers during High School and was offered unconditional offers from different universities to continue its study but couldn’t afford to pay the fees, many young students are living in the same situation: “There are hundreds of us – Ahmed explains, I’ve heard stories of students who had unconditional offers for medicine or engineering but had to just wait four or five years in silence before they could go to university.”
Challenging the unfair system
This unfair and unjust system has been also at the centre of a landmark legal case which our legal team from the Scottish Migrant and Refugee Centre worked on last year. The Court of Session Outer House found that the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) regulations were discriminatory by preventing a category of migrant young people, living lawfully in Scotland since their childhood, from accessing college or university alongside their peers.
Our client, Ola, came to us because she believed these rules were unfair. She was affected by the ‘cliff-edge’ as she fell short of the long residency requirement by 58 days with the Scottish Government refusing any discretion regarding her situation. We took the Scottish Government to court to outline how the current SAAS regulations were a breach of the right to education.
The Court of Session Outer House found that the regulations were unlawful in light of Article 14 (the right not to be discriminated against) and Article 2 of Protocol 1 (the right to education) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) long residency rule had to change
SAAS had to rethink their eligibility criteria to encompass the ruling as it prevented many migrant young people, living lawfully in Scotland since their childhood, from accessing college or university alongside their peers, and update the SAAS Payment Scheme. This scheme lowered the residency requirement from 7 years or half a lifetime, to just three years.
At the same time, the Scottish Government worked on a consultation to collect feedback and comments from the public on the regulations which was then published last January, and it will close on 31st March 2023.
What we have done to advocate for this change
- Led by Ahmed, together with Maryhill Integration Network, we worked on a survey to collect data on how many people in Scotland are facing barriers to accessing funding for higher education in Scotland because of their immigration status.
- We hosted an online event to discuss the outcome of the court ruling on access to SAAS funding open to students across Scotland and other organisations.
- We attended events in Glasgow and across the country: we talked at the CPG on Migration, we were invited to the UCU’s Annual Migrant Members Conference, we attended the Universities of Sanctuary Annual Conference.
- We planned our first-ever conference on March 8th in partnership with the University of Glasgow where we were able to promote our campaign; to share the latest report from the survey; to produce a helpful factsheet containing a brief summary of your right to study in Scotland for people with different immigration statuses; to explain what’s the consultation contains and how it can be submitted.
What’s happening now?
We are working with community groups, grassroots organisations, local authorities and JustCitizens to continue raise awareness about access to education and access to higher education for migrant students and asylum seekers in Scotland.
We are planning to submit the feedback we collected before the deadline to the Scottish Government’s consultation and published this content to further underline the importance and value of the right to education. It’s a key pillar in any inclusive society, which we are fighting to ensure Scotland is.
We are thankful for this positive step, and for our all migrant students who spoke up and are still speaking up to improve access to all our rights.