Somerville has been recognised as one of the UK’s first University Colleges of Sanctuary.

After a joint application with Mansfield College, Somerville has gained this recognition from UK charity City of Sanctuary after demonstrating its ongoing commitment to nurturing a culture of inclusivity and awareness on campus for those seeking sanctuary (which includes refugees and asylum seekers), as well as in the wider community.

To achieve recognition, which cities and universities can apply for, as well as university colleges, organisations must demonstrate how they have put measures in place to enable their members to learn about what it means for others to seek sanctuary, both generally and within in a higher education context.

They must also take positive action to embed the key concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion across their institution and share their vision, achievements, heritage and good practice within their community and beyond.

People seeking sanctuary face many barriers in attending university, with only 1% entering higher education. The colleges have established a new Sanctuary Scholarship as part of their efforts to address this imbalance, providing a fully funded place at each institution for a student of sanctuary seeking background.

Under the scheme, all living costs are covered by the colleges, while Oxford University will lend financial support by waiving tuition fees for the scholars. Further funding came from the college communities, with many Somerville alumni giving generous support to a crowdfunding campaign at Somerville.

Somerville has a history of supporting refugees dating back to the 1930s, when Jewish academics such as Classics student Lotte Labowsky fled to Somerville from Nazi Germany. Labowsky would go on to make the city her home, serving as a Fellow of the college until her death in 1991.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Somerville has gained recognition as a University College of Sanctuary,” said college Principal Jan Royall.

“I am proud of the way our staff, students and alumni have given their passionate support to us to help provide an inclusive place of refuge and welcome for scholars seeking sanctuary.

“Gaining this recognition is a brilliant step for both Colleges and it was great to work together with the University on this initiative. We look forward to doing even more to live up to our values and honour our long heritage of supporting people seeking sanctuary.”

The fact that the two colleges have remained committed to this issue even during the Covid-19 pandemic typifies the inclusive ethos of both institutions and the university to which we belong.

The charity City of Sanctuary recognises cities and organisations who work to create a culture of welcome and support for people seeking sanctuary

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