University of Sheffield goes extra mile to support refugee students

editorial image

Staff and students from the University of Sheffield have stepped across the finish line after walking across the country to raise vital funds for students and academics seeking refuge in the UK.

A total of 21 walkers trekked over 240 miles, following the Trans Pennine Trail as part of the University’s Big Walk 2016. They were split into two teams and set off from opposite ends of the trail, from Southport in the west and Hornsea in the east, meeting at Tankersley on Friday (17 June 2016) after six days of tackling the gruelling terrain.

The teams were joined by 125 fellow members of staff and students who accompanied them on the final 17 mile stretch back to the University in a One Day Challenge.

The efforts of University staff and students have raised over £40,000 so far. The funds will help both students and academics who are seeking refuge in the UK. The University’s five asylum seeker scholarships are for students who have not yet been awarded refugee status - and therefore have no access to student loans or other public funds. These scholarships are unique in the UK and cover the cost of tuition and living costs for each year of study. They are available to students’ studying undergraduate degrees or postgraduate masters courses.

In partnership with the Council for At Risk Academics (CARA), the University is also hosting refugee academics who are in danger or exile, giving them financial and practical help to continue their careers in a place of safety. CARA was first founded in 1933 and was responsible for bringing the University of Sheffield Nobel prize winner Sir Hans Krebs to Britain.

Speaking immediately after the walk, Professor Wyn Morgan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield, said the experience had been humbling. “Whenever we struggled we remembered what we were doing it for,” said Professor Morgan.

“We did it knowing where our beds were at the end of each day, where we would be eating, that our bags were packed for us – we did it without fear, without dealing with the things refugees have to deal with.

“It was tough, no question about it, but the fact we worked as a team, supporting each other, helped us get through it together. The highlight for me was the camaraderie. It was extraordinary because we didn’t know each other at the start of the week but we all built a really strong bond very quickly. It was really quite remarkable. I now feel like I have friends for life.”

He added: “The money raised will fund scholarships that will transform lives. We have seen and heard this from students who have been refugees –while we were on the walk we even received a donation from the wife of a refugee. We’re really grateful to everyone who donated. The money raised will make a massive difference.”

Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: “The Big Walk was an amazing experience – absolutely mind-blowing. Everyone found it very challenging but we worked really well as a team.

“Whenever we had blisters or injuries we kept talking about how lucky we were that we had the right equipment, beds to sleep in and homes to go back to. Refugees and asylum seekers have to make much more challenging journeys, many carrying children with them.

“To take part in this symbolic walk was a powerful experience.”

Dr Casey Strine, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, took part in the One Day Challenge.

He said: “The walk was fantastic. It was great to see so many people coming together to support people facing the most challenging of circumstances. On the walk people were talking about their own stories of migration and it was fascinating to hear about people’s experiences. As a University we are in a unique position to be able to do things other organisations can’t and fund these scholarships.”

The Big Walk and One Day Challenge are the latest events the University has hosted in order to show its solidarity, friendship and support for the millions of refugees who have been forced to leave their homes, family, friends and careers.

The University has a long-standing tradition and commitment of welcoming refugees as both students and academics to Sheffield, which became the UK’s first City of Sanctuary in 2012.

For more information about The Big Walk or to donate please visit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/alumni/donate/specialfunds/big-walk-2016

To learn more about the University of Sheffield’s work to support refugees please visit: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sheffieldinternational/refugees-welcome