Seeking sanctuary

Sharon Onokaye-Akaka and Muhammad Arkam Babar with London's skyline int he background

[This article is from the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of InTouch, your alumni magazine]

Sanctuary Scholarships have given two King’s students the education they never thought they would have. This is part of King’s aim to serve the needs and aspirations of society by improving access to education for everyone.

Sharon Onokaye-Akaka and Muhammad Arkam Babar have both lived and studied in the UK since they were children, yet found out they weren’t eligible for student finance due to Home Office restrictions.

With help from King’s, they now have access to the university education they always dreamed of. Sharon and Arkam both received scholarships from King’s as part of the Sanctuary programme.

Sharon Onokaye-Akaka
Sharon Onokaye-Akaka

Sharon is studying for a BA in History at King’s, but just a few years ago she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to realise her dream of studying at university in her home city of London.

‘I’ve lived in the UK since I was eight. Although I was aware my family had immigration issues, it was only on A-level results day that I realised I didn’t qualify for student finance, and it was devastating.’

Arkam, who’s studying Geography, said: ‘I had been living here for around nine years by the time I found out. The decision broke the whole family – my parents had struggled and worked very hard for my education. After that hope was taken away, we had nothing to look towards.’

Although neither of them accepted that this was the end of their university dreams, they had little hope that things would change until they discovered a campaigning group, Let Us Learn. The group helps people like Sharon and Arkam – who have lived nearly all their lives in the UK, but are not UK nationals – with advice on access to university.

Muhammad Arkam Babar

Arkam says: ‘I joined the group to help with campaigning, but it was through them I found out about King’s Sanctuary Scholarships. By the time I applied I had missed two years of education and my status was being reviewed by the Home Office again, so I wasn’t sure if I could even apply.

‘When I found out I’d been accepted it was amazing, it was the happiest day of our lives, as a family.’

Sharon says: ‘It was intense when I found out I’d been selected. I called my mum and we cried on the phone. The joy was just overwhelming.’

Both are hugely grateful for the scholarship. All they ever wanted was the chance to attend university. They both hope that the recent focus on immigration difficulties experienced by the Windrush generation will continue to heighten awareness of the issue.

Arkam says: ‘Before, people wouldn’t talk about the subject and they wouldn’t pay attention to us, so I think this focus has helped to raise awareness.’

Sharon continues: ‘It has exposed the reality of the situation. Many migrants go through these problems in silence.’

Due to another significant alumni donation, in September 2018 the number of scholarships available will increase to seven or eight per year and will also be open for healthcare-related courses.

King’s Director of Social Mobility and Student Success, Anne-Marie Canning MBE, is also part of a campaign to lobby for the reduction of Home Office fees for young people seeking citizenship. She said: ‘The high cost of child citizenship is preventing talented young people from making it to university. We need a reduction in the Home Office fee so that more parents can access this vital documentation for their British children. This is a major barrier to social mobility. King’s seeks to be the top university for promoting social mobility by 2029.’

About the Sanctuary Scholarships

Following a generous alumni donation, King’s introduced the Sanctuary Scholarships in 2016. Initially there were places for two undergraduate students each year who are asylum seekers or who have limited leave to remain in the UK and no access to Student Finance. The scholarships provide full support with tuition fees and help with living costs for the duration of the students’ course.

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