Alongside the Article 26 scholarship, the generosity of alumnus Gabriel Pretus is making the dream of Higher Education a reality for asylum seeker Kehinde, and removing the barriers for others like her.
When Kehinde first came to seek asylum in the UK from Nigeria with her parents, brother and two sisters, she was 13 years old. Despite the uncertainty of her home life, Kehinde thrived academically, achieving A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, French and Maths, and she hoped to study biomedical science at university. But that’s where the barriers went up.
While refugees have full access to UK student loans, asylum seekers are required to pay high international student fees “which is impossible when you’re not allowed to work,” Kehinde says. So, for 10 years, Kehinde lived in a state of limbo – unable to work, and therefore unable to study. “I just kept myself busy doing a lot of voluntary work. I got involved with my church, tutoring students in English, maths and science,” she says. “It was very helpful because it kept me in that kind of education system.”
When she was 28, Kehinde found out about a fully-funded access course in London which was open to asylum seekers. It was there that she found out about Royal Holloway’s Article 26 scholarship. Set up in partnership with the Helena Kennedy Foundation’s Article 26 project, the scholarship promotes access to Higher Education for students who have fled persecution and sought asylum in the UK.
With one scholarship available each year to eligible new undergraduates in any subject, it provides a full tuition fee waiver for three years of study. When Kehinde applied in 2018, it was the first year that Royal Holloway had also been able to offer the Article 26 maintenance bursary, thanks to a generous gift from The Friendly Hand charity. Worth £12,000 per annum, it meant that Kehinde would be able to support herself throughout her studies.
Co-founded by Royal Holloway alumnus and Honorary Fellow, Gabriel Pretus, The Friendly Hand charitable trust is based on ecumenical Christian principles, and offers practical aid to a wide range of communities around the world. Gabriel was born in Barcelona in 1940 and practiced family law until his retirement in 1990. He embarked on a period of extensive travel around the world before starting a Masters degree in Modern History at Royal Holloway in 2000.
From 2001, Gabriel played a leading role in establishing The Friendly Hand and also completed a higher research degree (MPhil) in Royal Holloway’s History department. Gabriel’s current research looks at the origins and role of ‘safe’ or ‘neutral’ zones in times of conflict, and he remains a Trustee of The Friendly Hand, which since 2002 has offered research bursaries and scholarships to support Royal Holloway History students, and now provides the Article 26 maintenance bursary.
“When I got the email saying I had got the scholarship, I cried,” says Kehinde. “When new opportunities are opened for you after so many years of waiting and not being believed, I didn’t know any words to say so I just cried.”
Now aged 30, Kehinde is starting her third year reading Biomedical Sciences at the university. “It’s been fantastic so far. Royal Holloway is such a beautiful and inviting place, there’s a community – it’s lovely.”
After 13 years of fighting to be recognised as an asylum seeker, Kehinde is reticent to think beyond graduation. “I’ve lived for such a long time in limbo, so you don’t make too many long-term plans. But if everything goes according to plan I would really love to go into immunology.”
Kehinde is in no doubt that the Article 26 scholarship and The Friendly Hand maintenance bursary have given her an opportunity not only to have a future, but to have a voice.
Gabriel Pretus says “It’s so important to the Friendly Hand to support an initiative such as this as it allows the Article 26 scholarship to be awarded annually at Royal Holloway, bringing it within the reach of those for whom it was intended.”