Tashi Tahir explains the lengths she went to in her quest to get to university, including considering changing her surname and even taking up vegetarianism…
I’m just about to complete my second year at university and right now I’m completing a short placement with Let Us Learn. It’s been amazing getting to work more in depth with the young people involved and to get to know them better on a personal level. Hearing everyone’s stories again reminded me of my own struggle of accessing university and how much perseverance and strength it took to obtain my scholarship.
When I applied to university, I didn’t realise that my “asylum seeker” status would mean that I would be barred from furthering my education. Only after my application was sent I discovered that I was ineligible for student funding. I couldn’t comprehend why this was the case. I had achieved straight As, constantly challenged myself academically and outperformed my peers. Yet they were going to university and I wasn’t.
I didn’t let this stop me. I researched every opportunity I could find through the internet and phoned every funding agency and university. But all of them retorted the same thing: NO.
Things were getting desperate now. Having already been in the asylum process for 10 years, I couldn’t see an end. I couldn’t see a future for me or my mum. How was I meant to support her when I couldn’t work or continue my education?
A few months passed and I received unconditional offers from all five of my university choices, but I was classed as an international student at all of them. I’m not the kind of person to admit defeat so easily though. I knew that no matter how many “Nos” I received or setbacks I experienced I would continue fighting for the thing that I knew I had a right to: an education. I started to widen my search and started to contact anyone that might be able to help. I sent out mass emails explaining my situation to well-known activists, MPs, university officials, among others. As is the case with emails, only a small number of people responded; but the ones who did conveyed their empathy for my situation and fuelled me with hope that there may be a way out.
One of those emails put me in contact with “Glasgow Girl”, Roza Salih, who had been actively campaigning for wider access to student finance for migrants. She explained that she had been in a similar situation to me and had challenged the policy on student finance in Scotland a few years ago, and that she had been successful! Even though student finance and the Refugee Council had told me that I wasn’t eligible, there was a clause in eligibility that said asylum cases made before 2006 were eligible for student finance. This was it! I finally qualified to have my tuition fees paid. However, my dream to go to St Andrews still couldn’t come to fruition, as I couldn’t get access to any grants or loans to pay for my living costs. It felt as if after overcoming one barrier another one always seemed to take its place.
I scoured the internet once again, this time for any funds I could use to pay part of my accommodation. I looked for weeks and weeks but my search came to no avail. It wasn’t that there was a lack of funds for students to access; I just didn’t qualify for any of the criteria. I remember seeing all sorts of strange scholarships, such as ones for people with certain last names or for vegetarians. Things were getting so desperate that changing my name or becoming vegetarian did seem like the least crazy way to raise this money! However, just as I was beginning to lose hope, I got an email from someone at St Andrews who I had contacted before, saying that they knew of a funding agency that might be able to help me with paying my way through the university. It was by this sheer luck that I was introduced to The Robertson Trust, and through them I won a scholarship to fund my degree.
It was a challenging period during which I thought I couldn’t pursue my dreams, due to a flaw in the system which I had no control over. Despite this, I knew I worked as I hard as I could have to get into university. However, it was thanks to my belief in myself and my perseverance that I’m studying in St Andrews today. Exploring every single avenue that was available to me and not giving up, even when everything seems to be against you, is something that I’m going to apply to all aspects of my future life.
Being part of Let us Learn allows me to campaign for others to have the same opportunities that I did. We have a wonderful community here where everybody supports each other and we all help one another other reach the same goal of wanting to attend university. But don’t forget that you have to push your own situation forward if you really want results. Your individual hard work and effort will always be the carrier to your success. Along with a bit of luck and persistence you will find a resolution. Don’t give up!
Read more about the Young, Gifted and Blocked campaign.