Coronavirus lockdown just one of many obstacles for young refugees pursuing higher education in the UK

On World Refugee Day, a new study from Unicef UK and Refugee Support Network has outlined numerous challenges facing young refugees and asylum seekers in the UK – including lack of support and poor mental health and wellbeing.

Home > Media Contacts and Press Releases > Coronavirus lockdown just one of many obstacles for young refugees pursuing higher education in the UK

London, 20th June 2020 – New research conducted by Unicef UK and Refugee Support Network (RSN) out today has highlighted key obstacles young refugees face in accessing further and higher education in the UK.

On World Refugee Day, the report highlights how many young refugees (aged 15-25) experience a lack of support and poor mental health and emotional wellbeing when it comes to accessing the upper stages of education.

Children’s lives in the UK are being impacted by the restrictions that have been put into place to contain Coronavirus – particularly the closure of their schools. This is no different for refugee children and young people, who already face numerous challenges in terms of education, social acceptance and their legal status.

The research, based on the experiences of 500 refugees and asylum-seeking young people, found that one third of those working towards further and higher education experience a lack of support and encouragement.

One young person reported: “I know a few students who don’t even do UCAS because they think there is no point, no hope”.

The study also found that the complex nature of eligibility for funded courses or financial support after the age of 18 contributed to a lack of confidence in applying – and in many cases prevented progress for those who did apply.

Even when support is received, such as through scholarships, immigration status can challenge the accessibility of education. One young person reported that despite receiving a scholarship, a ‘no study’ condition was in place and ‘“it took so long [for it to be lifted] that I couldn’t take up the scholarship. All the deadlines had closed by the time it got lifted”.

Over half of young people directly consulted found that entry requirements hindered their entry to higher education institutions, in particular, those who had been forced to flee their country of origin shortly before they were due to start university.

Young people described the challenges of retrieving previously obtained certification and references from their home countries. They also stated that many UK higher education institutions did not recognise the certificates they had as equivalents.

“We have done it,” said one young person, “but we can’t prove it”.

“There is no doubt that the current Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown situation means many refugees are experiencing even greater challenges in accessing education,” said Anja Nielsen, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser for Education and Youth at UNICEF UK. “This research not only sheds light on the complex challenges of attaining further and higher education that young refugees must overcome, but also how their personal resilience and drive for education sees them succeed. The education sector and government must work together to support these young people and urgently address the barriers to education they face.”

Catherine Gladwell, Chief Executive at Refugee Support Network said “Young refugees tell us that education will help them rebuild their lives. These obstacles to progression, which are now exacerbated by lockdown, risk preventing talented and ambitious young people from building positive futures. This report shows how the government, schools, colleges and universities can come together with the voluntary sector to ensure no young people are left behind.”

Unicef UK and Refugee Support Network are calling on the government to revisit access to home fees and other restrictive rules that limit young refugees’ access to further and higher education.

The organisations are also calling on colleges and universities to improve their support for young refugees by investing in staff training, providing clear and publicly available guidance, and exercising flexibility and compassion in the admissions process.

Notes to editors

The research adopts a mixed-methods (primarily qualitative) approach, and incorporates the experiences of 500 refugee and asylum-seeking young people and practitioners

Twenty-two young people between the ages of 17 and 25 were directly consulted through four participatory focus groups and six phone interviews. Semi-structured key informant interviews with 16 expert practitioners across the FE and HE sector in England were also conducted. These interviews included voluntary sector representatives (frontline workers and policy experts) and staff at schools, colleges and universities.  Data from RSN education programmes, which support refugee and asylum-seeking young people to progress to FE and HE, between August 2018 and February 2020 was analysed. The casework notes of 135 young people who received face to face support from RSN were examined – 49 under the ‘Access to HE’ programme, and 86 under the ‘Access to FE’ programme. In addition, 343 enquiries made to RSN’s ‘Access to HE’ helpline were examined.

For more information please contact:

Marco Carraro, 0207 375 6052,

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, 

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

For more information please visit

Follow UNICEF UK on TwitterFacebook and YouTube.

About Refugee Support Network

Refugee Support Network helps young refugees build brighter futures by supporting them to access, remain and progress in education in the UK. Currently over 500 young people each year benefit from our core programmes: educational mentoring, access to further and higher education, and specialist education and wellbeing support. Alongside our direct work with young people, we undertake research and consultancy and provide training to policy makers and frontline practitioners.

For more information please visit

Follow RSN on Twitter (@Refugee_Support), Facebook (Refugee Support Network), Instagram (@rsn_uk)