HE provider good practice briefing for refugees, asylum seekers, and students with limited leave to remain

This briefing is for staff working in universities and colleges, supporting the introduction of the new UCAS flag to identify applicants who are refugees, asylum seekers, and those with limited leave to remain in the UK. We have worked with STAR Network, Refugee Education UK and We Belong to outline the common challenges for these students, share good practice around the UK to improve access to and success in higher education, and provide considerations ahead of the new question.

If you're a student, please visit our information and advice page for refugees, asylum seekers or students with limited leave to remain.

If you're a teacher, adviser or parent, our adviser toolkit contains practical tips and advice on supporting refugees,  asylum seeking students or those with limited leave to remain. 

Who are refugees and asylum seekers?

A refugee is someone whose claim for asylum has been recognised and they have been granted official ‘refugee’ status. Someone with humanitarian protection has permission to stay in the UK for humanitarian reasons. They are both usually eligible for ‘home’ tuition fees and student finance.

More information can be found on the UKCISA website.

An asylum seeker is someone who’s in the process of seeking asylum, or the decision is still pending. If someone has been granted limited leave to remain (LLR) or discretionary leave to remain (DLR) because of an asylum claim, they have permission to stay temporarily in the UK. Usually, fee status is classed as ‘overseas’ for these students and they are ineligible to apply for student finance.

Entitlements vary depending on where in the UK the applicant is based – refer to UKCISA guidance for further details.


Young people aged 17 or under are considered ‘dependants’ if they have a parent or guardian with official refugee status. This status can change when they reach 18 and are able to apply for asylum independently – as such, an applicant’s status may change during the cycle, so it is important they update their course provider(s) immediately in the event of any change. If someone under the age of 18 has no parent or guardian in the UK, they are referred to as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). In some circumstances, someone aged 18 or above may also be considered a ‘dependant’ – read more on the GOV.uk website.

Care experienced students

Some students may have been in local authority care, so it may be useful to also refer to the UCAS good practice briefing for care experienced students to gain a full understanding of their support needs.

The UCAS application

To support the identification of students with individual support needs, UCAS has introduced a series of new questions into the application for 2023 entry. One of these questions will enable refugees, asylum seekers, and those with limited leave to remain in the UK to self-declare their circumstances:

Your information will be treated in confidence, to help the university or college provide support for you. It may also be used for monitoring purposes to inform and improve support for future students who are refugees or asylum seekers or with limited leave to remain in the UK.

For more information about answering this question read our FAQs

Find out more about applying to university if you are a refugee or asylum seeker

This question is further supported by extended FAQ-style help text to clarify why we ask this question, how the student’s information will be used, and the support they may be able to access by sharing their circumstances.

To support applicants who are refugees, asylum seekers, or with limited leave to remain, UCAS has worked with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) Network to create a personal statement guide which is designed to help applicants highlight to HE providers their circumstances, as well as strengths and skills gained from their personal experience. 

Use of this question

This question has been introduced to help universities and colleges connect students with the support and information they will need with making the transition to higher education and being successful in their studies.

This information is not verified by UCAS, and the options do not cover the full range of immigration statuses. Universities and colleges are expected to make contact with the student directly to discuss their circumstances and support needs in more detail and check eligibility for any bursaries or other support packages. UCAS expects this information will be shared with staff members responsible for arranging any support or helping students through the application and into higher education as required (e.g. the student support team, widening participation team). This information should not be used to establish a student’s immigration or fee status.

Three key challenges for students who are refugees or asylum seekers

1. Financial

Students who are assigned ‘overseas’ status are ineligible for student finance in the UK and typically incur higher tuition fees, all of which can make higher education prohibitively expensive. A change in refugee status at 18 may also create difficulties when applying for financial support, and could lead to delayed payments. Students who experience a change of circumstances and become eligible for student finance during their studies may only apply for the following academic year.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and must declare any income, so any direct financial support may affect their asylum seeker’s allowance or accommodation. 

2. Information and advice

For someone who is new to the UK higher education system, the application process and student finance may be difficult to navigate – especially if they do not have guidance. Schools and colleges often lack expertise in supporting these students because the system is complex and changeable. A major challenge is overcoming obstacles due to educational irregularities – this may be due to restricted access to education in their home country, having to learn English on arrival, or presenting with lower qualifications or different pathways. Some may also struggle to provide evidence of achieved qualifications due to  lost transcripts or certificates. The opportunity to research available options may be limited for those without regular internet access.

3. Health and wellbeing

Refugees and asylum seekers are likely to have faced hardship, trauma and extreme personal circumstances, which may result in emotional and mental health concerns. They may have faced – or still be facing – years of waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, leading to uncertainty and/or the fear or shame of telling others about their immigration status. Concerns about friends and family left behind may also be a cause of distress. Students may experience difficulties settling into a new culture, creating new support networks, and dealing with language barriers – all of which can result in social isolation.


Considerations ahead of the new question

To support pre-applicants

  • Is there a central contact, with easily accessible online details, for students to discuss any problems or support needs before they apply or arrive?
  • Is the support for asylum seekers and/or refugees clearly signposted on your website (preferably on a dedicated page) and through student services?
  • Are asylum seekers and/or refugees mentioned in your widening participation strategy and plans (e.g. Access and Participation Plans in England, or Outcome Agreements in Scotland)?
  • When you engage with secondary schools (e.g. through outreach), do you raise awareness of the support available to asylum seekers and/or refugees in higher education?
  • Have you listed any bursaries, scholarships and other financial support on the STAR website?
  • Are marketing and recruitment teams aware of the support available to refugees and asylum seekers, and is this flagged at recruitment events?

To support applicants

  • What processes are in place to (sensitively) share information about an applicant’s declared circumstances with your student services team? Are all parties involved aware of their responsibilities and next steps?
  • Is the information relayed to the student’s academic tutor? Are academic staff aware of the needs of asylum seekers and/or refugees, or would they benefit from further information or training?
  • For students who have been under local authority care, do you automatically offer support through your care leavers’ support provision?
  • Do you check for references to an applicant’s circumstances in their personal statement or reference – even if they have not ticked the box?
  • Does your university or college consider asylum seekers and/or refugees within any contextualised admissions policy?
  • Are admissions staff aware of where to signpost students who have concerns about the decision made on their fee status (e.g. UKCISA, Coram)?
  • Do you contact students early in the cycle so they know who to contact with any questions, support needs or change in circumstance, instead of after Confirmation? 

To support transition

  • Does your university or college have connections with local asylum seeker and/or refugee support networks and groups? Is this information readily available through student services and online?
  • Do you contact students ahead of their arrival to provide details of health and wellbeing support services available, and to encourage contact to discuss any concerns or needs?
  • What measures are in place to ensure students are able to establish social networks and integrate fully into wider student life?
  • Do students fully understand what support they will receive before they arrive, and know what to expect on their first day?

To support ongoing study and graduation

  • Are the three key challenges for asylum seekers and/ or refugees (as outlined above) covered, or is further provision needed?
  • Will support be reviewed periodically (e.g. to accommodate changes to the student’s circumstances)?
  • What measures are in place to support a student making the transition out of higher education and into employment?
  • If you do not currently offer a discrete support package for these students, consider what support exists for all students, which they might find helpful (e.g. hardship funds, counselling services). Could these elements be signposted together in one place (e.g. a dedicated web page), or offered as a package?

Examples of good practice and support for refugees and asylum seekers

102 universities and colleges across the UK specifically refer to refugees and/or asylum seekers in their 2019/20 widening access and participation plans (e.g. Access and Participation Plans in England, and Outcome Agreements in Scotland), and there is a diversity of provision available. Below, we present a selection of good practice for consideration.

Examples of ‘quick wins’

  • A named contact, with their direct line and email address published online, and examples of how they can help.
  • Develop and maintain a relationship with local and national services for asylum seekers and/or refugees.
  • Free, regular study support skills workshops.
  • Sign up to the University of Sanctuary JISCMAIIL for updates and support from other HE providers in the UK.
  • Celebrate refugees’ achievements and contributions on national awareness days (e.g. Refugee Week, World Access to HE Day).
  • What measures are in place to support a student making the transition out of higher education and into employment?
  • Regularly check the Student Loans Company’s campaigns page and make sure you are registered to receive updates from your regional SLC account manager.
  • Regular meetings with academic tutor to discuss progress and priorities.
  • A dedicated web page for asylum seekers and/or refugees, outlining the support available and how to access it, including:
    • clear information about visa, fee status, what to do if your status changes during your application or study, and where students can get further advice (e.g. UKCISA, Coram)
    • signposting to mental health and wellbeing support on campus
    • details about how to apply for bursaries and access hardship funds (including food banks)
    • information for care leavers
    • information about external sources of funding
  • student case studies and stories
  • links to local and national support services, including university groups and societies

Examples of medium-term changes – may require changes to current plans, policies, or processes

  • A bursary, grant or scholarship for those who are not eligible for student finance.
  • Priority access to hardship funds, with financial advice about budgeting.
  • Tuition fees reduced from ‘overseas’ level to ‘home’.
  • A non-repayable grant for refugees to help with transition and getting started, and another on graduation.
  • A guaranteed place in university accommodation for the duration of the course.
  • Asylum seekers and/or refugees included in widening participation outreach work.
  • Explain how students affected by educational disruption may use alternative methods to demonstrate their academic ability or suitability for a course.
  • Ensure any English language test requirement does not present a financial barrier.
  • Support asylum seekers with meeting costs such as tuition, accommodation, books and equipment, travel and field trips rather than offering grants and bursaries that may conflict with their allowance from the Home Office. More examples of good practice when offering a scholarship or bursary to students on asylum support can be found in this guidance sheet produced by Student Action for Refugees (STAR).
  • An up-to-date policy for asylum seekers and/or refugees, clarifying the support they can expect, and staff roles and responsibilities.
  • Peer support groups and societies (e.g. through STAR).
  • Mentoring and buddy programmes.
  • A relationship with virtual schools where refugee and asylum seeker children are being supported.
  • Help with fees for clubs and societies, to help address barriers to socialising and reduce loneliness.

Examples of longer-term changes, which may require planning and substantial changes

  • Progress tracking with an evaluation of the support provided, and an impact assessment to ensure support is effective.
  • An induction day/week in the summer holidays to help with transition, including a campus tour, an introduction to student support and wellbeing services, and a chance to discuss support required.
  • Access courses, workshops, summer schools, and MOOCS to support transition and fill any skills gaps prior to starting a higher education course. Provision of free Level 3 courses to help students gain relevant qualifications if they are not yet ready to apply.
  • Free English language tuition throughout the year, including classes, work with local schools, and language mentoring/buddy schemes.
  • Bursaries, grants or scholarships offered to students who are not eligible for student finance (e.g. Universities of Sanctuary) – more details on the STAR website.
  • Link to the local City of Sanctuary network or other community organisations.
  • A dedicated advisory service for refugees and/or asylum seekers that works with local, national and international agencies and organisations.