Tutors and students to teach refugees through OXPAND

first_imgChrist Church, St John’s and Merton have all offered or are planning to offer places to academics fleeing the crisis in Syria, with several other colleges including Hertford and Wadham, expected to follow suit.Oxford University said in a statement, “The University has long been a member of the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA.) Working with the colleges who provide accommodation and invaluable financial support, we already offer the opportunity and facilities for academics to come and work in Oxford in cases where their academic freedom and safety are at serious risk in their home countries.“Given the present crisis in Syria, the University and colleges are planning substantially to increase our involvement in this scheme in order to help academics especially from Syria and neighbouring countries. The University is in contact with Oxford City Council to see what help we might usefully provide to help refugees through volunteering or through the offer of specialist advice.” Stephen Wordsworth, the Executive Director of CARA, told Cherwell, “Four Colleges are already hosting CARA Fellows, and discussions are now going on about broadening this, bringing in more Colleges. Cara’s Fellowship Programme supports academics, often in very immediate danger, helping them to escape to a safe place where they can continue their work.“Our Fellows come from around 25 different countries. Syrians are, of course, in the headlines just now, and make up around two-thirds of all recent applicants for support. It is worth repeating that CARA Fellows are not ‘refugees’ and don’t want to be seen as such. They badly need to escape from very difficult situations, sometimes from very imminent physical danger, but they are looking to get away for a limited period, and then, one day, hope to return home, to help re-build.”Wordsworth continued, “In terms of what we need at Oxford, we would ideally like to see Colleges and the University, between them, finding a way to take over the full costs. The total numbers are likely to be fairly limited – I can’t put an exact figure on it, but the standards at Oxford are, obviously, very high, and only a relatively small proportion overall of those we are helping will probably qualify.” Organisers stressed to tutors and translators, however, that OXPAND is not only about academic fulfilment, but also about establishing friendship with refugees and creating hope. As Simpson went on to tell Cherwell, “As the refugees Skype with our volunteer tutors and translators, they gain not only one-to-one academic support, but inspiring new friendships. Having the chance to study any OXPAND course they like, for free, brings them a real sense of positivity for their future: which, given the current refugee crisis, is incredibly valuable.”OXPAND began in the context of this summer’s on-going refugee crisis in Europe, during which a team of Oxford University students volunteered with OXAB (Oxford Aid to the Balkans), many working with refugees in Sofia, Bulgaria over the summer. Universities have been shut down across Syria because of the war, which Simpson says is “leaving aspirational and talented students little opportunity to fulfil their full potential.”OXPAND is also working in collaboration with a wider campaign effort, which seeks to secure scholarships from the University of Oxford for refugees currently living within and outside of the UK. Thaís Roque, who works with the Oxford University Refugee Campaign, Citizens UK, and the International Students Network (UK), told Cherwell that a motion this week has been submitted to OUSU calling upon OUSU representatives to support the Oxford Refugee Campaign. The campaign seeks to pressurise the University to sign up to Article 26 – a project which “now works with 14 universities, [and which] establishes UK-based refugees the minimum of a full tuition fee bursary [and] if possible additional financial support to cover the cost of travel, books and equipment.”Roque was confident about this goal, telling Cherwell, “I think there’s a good chance Oxford will sign up to Article 26 and I really think we have a good chance with the support of OUSU and students of the University.” While she admitted that “money isn’t going to be a problem, [but] bureaucracy might be,” Roque emphasized the possibility of a positive outcome citing the example of Jesus College, which “already has one scholarship for refugees…this kind of thing is possible.”“It’s a long term process,” concluded Roque. “Everything at Oxford takes time, [but] Anna’s project [OXPAND] is already giving refugees interested in education hope for the future.” Merton College Warden, Sir Martin Taylor, commented, “The College has chosen to become involved in this primarily because we recognised that there was a need to which we wanted to respond. Oxford has in the recent past been a place to which academics seeking refuge have come; among them Sir George Radda, the eminent chemist, who came to Merton after leaving his native Hungary following the events of 1956.“As with all academics who come to Merton, they bring their scholarship and their research talents; for us this is not simply an act of charity – they come and they contribute, and we see this very much as something from which we stand to gain.”The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, said his college has now already welcomed a Syrian professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. “We took a decision several months ago that we would try to offer hospitality to academics at risk in the Middle East,” he said. “[She] was in Aleppo working at the university when she was forced to leave because of the instability and violence there. We are very glad to be able to offer her hospitality and support here.”This Sunday also marked the first meeting of a number of tutors and translators, the majority of whom are current Oxford University students, involved in a new initiative called OXPAND. With the aid of Skype, tutors are collaborating with students and translators in order to facilitate “the continued education of displaced young students awaiting refugee status”. OXPAND’s aim, stated on its website, is to bring “talented and aspirational asylum seekers the academic resources they deserve whilst they are waiting for status or living in refugee camps.”At Sunday’s meeting of tutors and translators, there was a wide range of students present, all hoping to give tutoring and translation services to refugees this term. Anna Simpson, founder of OXPAND, told Cherwell, “There are 24 refugees taking courses this term, [the] majority from Syria, but also Iraq, the Yemen, and Sudan.” OXPAND has already established a wider database of “over 150 volunteer tutors/student teachers,” meaning that each refugee should be allocated “a tutor and translator, or two tutors if no translator is required.” The courses, which are being overseen by a team of coordinators, began on Tuesday.last_img

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