Portsmouth students have been creating and signing petitions for and against the idea that the University of Portsmouth offer scholarships to Syrian refugees coming into the UK.
Both petitions have spread through social media and have gained numerous amounts of support from students across campus.
The petition lobbying the University of Portsmouth to offer scholarships to 20 Syrian refugees was launched by the University of Portsmouth Activist Network in late January of 2016. The University of Portsmouth Activist Network (UPAN) began in the autumn of 2015 with the purpose of bringing together members of various societies across campus who want to campaign on the same social and political issues.
UPAN told The Galleon: “Following a demo in the city centre against the Council’s refusal to take in any more refugees, we realised that we might be more helpful by trying to convince the university to grant scholarships to some of the people who had to flee their country because of war. Thus, at the end of January we launched the petition asking the University of Portsmouth to offer at least 20 full scholarships to refugees. The reaction has been amazing so far: in only one day we raised no less than 700 hand signatures only from university students! In addition, our online petition, which can be signed by anyone, has already gained over 500 signatures.”
However, despite receiving what UPAN describe as an ‘amazing’ response, a rival petition was set up by University of Portsmouth student, Luke Freeman who wanted to discourage students from signing the petition to lobby the University to offer scholarships to refugees. He told The Galleon: “I feel that it is wrong when students are paying increased fees and grants are being transformed into loans, for the university to offer all expenses paid scholarships to people simply on the merit of being refugees. It may be the ‘nice’ thing to do however it does not make it the fair, sensible or right thing to do.”
The University of Portsmouth has released a statement to The Galleon following the launch of Luke’s petitition which states that currently they have no plans to offer any scholarships to Syrian refugees and have made no comment that they are planning to. The original petition was set up as a student idea and has as yet not influenced or impacted a university decision.
UPAN told The Galleon after the launch of the rival petition: “Unfortunately, not all of our fellow students lived up to this display of solidarity and some of them have launched an online counter-petition asking the university not to grant any scholarships to refugees.
“The basic argument of this counter-petition and its supporters (some of whom have left explicitly xenophobic comments) is that refugees should not get scholarships as long as domestic students have to pay for their education. In answer to that, we argue that we actually support free education for all, as we understand education to be a fundamental right of everyone, not a privilege reserved to a few. Indeed, we will be campaigning for free education and against further marketisation of higher education in the near future, hoping that the initiators of this counter-petition will join us.”
The Galleon asked University of Portsmouth students what they thought of both ideas and although the majority of those asked seemed in favour of offering scholarships, there were strong arguments for both sides.
Jack Row, 23 believes the idea is good in principal, but questioned where the money would come from: “We need to research into if there is the funds for it, but on paper it sounds good so I’m all for it. The amount of money we spend on tuition, I’m sure there’s some spare to help people in need.”
Beth Dyson agreed, stating: “I’m definitely for offering the scholarships to the refugees. I think it’s our duty to help people who have lost everything that they had in place to support themselves in their own country.”
Sophie Crilly mentioned the right to education, telling us: “Everyone’s got a right to education. Just because they’re refugees doesn’t make a difference.”
However others weren’t as supportive, Edward Chapman, 21 asked how it would be decided who would be entitled to a scholarship and who wouldn’t. He told The Galleon: “How will they choose these refugees? If they’ve got background knowledge and want to do the courses available, then definitely. But if they don’t then you can’t just chuck them in the classroom.”
A student who wishes to remain anonymous told us: “They don’t know how to behave. Look what’s happening in Germany. They’re not adapted to western life. I have nothing against refugees who can behave, but I think it could put our students in danger.”
If you are interested in signing either of the petitions the links are available below.
FOR lobbying the University of Portsmouth to
offer 20 scholarships to Syrian refugees: https://secure.avaaz.org/en//The_University_of_Portsmouth_To_offer_scholarships_to_Syrian_refugees/?pv=2
AGAINST lobbying the University of Portsmouth to offer 20 scholarships to Syrian refugees: https://www.change.org/p/the-university-of-portsmouth-petition-against-the-university-of-portsmouth-offering-20-syrian-refugees-a-scholarship