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University Sponsorship: Providing sanctuary for Ukrainian students and academics

The war in Ukraine has seen over eight million people forced to flee their homes and seek sanctuary across Europe. To support displaced students and academics, King’s College London has worked in partnership to develop the University Sponsorship Model with Citizens UK, Ukrainian Sponsorship Pathway UK (USPUK), Open University, Newcastle University and the University of Leicester. The University Sponsorship Model enables higher education institutions to implement the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme and help students and academics to find safety in the UK and continue their studies and research.

More than 50 individuals impacted by the war in Ukraine have been sponsored by members of the King’s community so far. This includes students who continue to study their degrees at Ukrainian universities online, academic fellows and recipients of King’s Sanctuary Scholarships. 

In November 2022, Dr Nicole Mennell (Sanctuary Programme Manager at King's), visited refugee centres in Warsaw, Poland with Citizens UK and USPUK. During the visit, Nicole had the opportunity to speak with some of the Ukrainians who are currently living in the converted exhibition centres while they wait to be matched with hosts.

'I have been consistently amazed by the resilience of the Ukrainian guests we have met through the University Sponsorship Model', she said. 'While the refugee centres provide a temporary place of safety, it was eye opening to see firsthand how difficult life currently is for many of the people living there. What has really stayed with me from the visit is that for so many of the people who have been forced to flee their homes, they are unable to move forward with their lives.

'We are incredibly grateful to the members of the King's community who have opened up their homes and generously provided places of sanctuary for those whose lives have been disrupted by the war in Ukraine,' Nicole said. 'As the war continues, more hosts are needed to help displaced students and researchers to resume their lives and continue their academic journeys'.

A staff member's experience of hosting a Ukrainian student

Hosts from King’s include Dr Jennifer Stevenson, Honorary Senior Lecturer and Clinical Pharmacist in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine. Jennifer and her family welcomed Ukrainian university student Anna into their home and supported her to continue her degree online. Speaking about her family’s motivations for signing up as hosts, Jennifer said: ‘We hoped to provide opportunities for even just one person who had been put in a desperate situation through no fault of their own, and also to understand more about Ukrainian culture. We wanted our children to witness humanity and kindness first hand and experience the satisfaction that helping those in need can bring.’

Jennifer’s guest Anna travelled to the UK on her own in May and was met at Luton Airport by bright welcome posters made by Jennifer’s children. After supporting Anna with the practicalities of adjusting to her new home in the first few days, such as registering with a GP, arranging a Biometric Residence Permit and sourcing a mobile phone, Jennifer notes that there has been little impact on their day-to-day lives, other than some extra washing-up for the additional person at dinner.

Hosting has been incredibly rewarding. Our guest has demonstrated exceptional bravery and determination to succeed even in the most challenging of circumstances which reminds us daily of how fortunate we are and inspires us to take every opportunity we can.– Dr Jennifer Stevenson, Honorary Senior Lecturer and Clinical Pharmacist, Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine

Anna is undertaking an undergraduate degree in English and Germanic Languages and Literature at Oles Honchar Dnipro National University. Her course was moved online when war broke out in Ukraine in February, with lectures and seminars often suspended due air raid sirens. Through the place of safety provided by Jennifer and her family, Anna has been able to attend classes online, submit assignments and undertake exams while in the UK.

For Anna, it has been especially valuable to be hosted by a member of a university community. 'As a student, it was important for me to learn about the possibilities of studying in Britain and especially about the university admission system, as it is different from the Ukrainian one. So it is very helpful to have someone who can help and explain', she said.

From sharing mealtimes to celebrating birthdays and enjoying trips to central London together, Anna has become part of the family and hosting has been an enriching experience. Anna and Jennifer introduced each other to aspects of British and Ukrainian cultures through watching the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and Servant of the People, the comedy series which stars President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before his political career. Anna also joined the family for part of their summer holiday in Scotland, taking the opportunity to visit iconic Harry Potter filming locations in the region as an avid fan of the books and films, an interest that she shares with Jennifer’s children.

Over the summer, Anna undertook a paid internship with the King’s Sanctuary Team. Drawing on her own experience of displacement and adapting to life in the UK, Anna helped build the Sanctuary Programme Resource Hub for hosts and guests who are supported through the University Sponsorship Model. This SharePoint site brings together key information, from visa applications to accessing education opportunities, to assist people with the hosting process and help them save time searching for key resources.

Jennifer’s advice to prospective hosts is to access these resources and help guests to organise the necessary practicalities as soon as possible after they arrive as this ‘gives them the foundations for the best opportunity to live a meaningful and fulfilling life whilst in the UK, rather than life being on pause’.

Find out more and get involved

What is the University Sponsorship Model?

The UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme enables people living in the UK to sponsor a named Ukrainian national or family to live with them, for a minimum of six months. Hosts sponsoring under this scheme provide appropriate accommodation and receive £350 pcm as a contribution to costs of hosting.*

The University Sponsorship Model is part of the Communities for Ukraine programme, a collaboration between Citizens UK and Ukrainian Sponsorship Pathway UK (USPUK) that has been awarded ‘Recognised Provider’ status by the UK Government to match refugees with host sponsors. Kings has worked in partnership to develop the University Sponsorship Model with Citizens UK, USPUK, the Open University, Newcastle University and the University of Leicester. The University Sponsorship Model enables the higher education sector to implement the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme and help displaced students and academics to find safety in the UK and keep engaged with their studies and research.

The universities use a relational matching process to match hosts from their communities with guests identified and screened by USPUK, which means we take the time to find the best fit for both hosts and guests. Hosts receive support from dedicated team and access to training on all aspects of the hosting process, including safeguarding, post-arrival support and moving on after six months.

In addition to providing holistic support for guests and hosts, dedicated teams at each partner university work to facilitate students’ access to education and enable academics to continue their research and find employment opportunities. For example, King’s hosts have provided short-term accommodation to academic fellows, students who continue to study their Ukrainian degrees online and recipients of our Sanctuary Scholarships.

It has been a truly rewarding experience to work in partnership with the Open University, Newcastle University and the University of Leicester to develop the University Sponsorship Model as a cross-sectoral collaborative approach to resettling and supporting individuals impacted by the war in Ukraine. Our ambition is that the University Sponsorship Model can be scaled and replicated to deliver transformative educational opportunities and safe and legal pathways for displaced students and academics from across the world.– Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Reader in International Politics and Director of the King’s Sanctuary Programme, King’s College London

The King's Sanctuary Team's broader ambition is to create a model that can be scaled, replicated and adapted to provide support for forcibly displaced students and academics from across the world. The implementation of the University Sponsorship Model will be evaluated in order to share learnings and contribute to the policy process of creating formalised higher-education-led and community-based safe and legal pathways for displaced students and academics from across the world.

This initiative builds on King’s longstanding work into creating opportunities for forcefully displaced people and sits alongside King’s Sanctuary Programme, formed in 2015 in response to the global issue of forced displacement, which affects more than 100 million people worldwide.

* In December 2022, the UK Government announced that the £350 ‘thank you’ payments will be extended from 12 months to a maximum duration of two years. The ‘thank you’ payments for hosts will also be increased from £350 per month to £500 per month after the guest has been in the UK for 12 months.

In this story

Leonie  Ansems de Vries

Leonie Ansems de Vries

Reader in International Politics

Nicole Mennell

Nicole Mennell

Sanctuary Programme Manager (Maternity Leave)

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