Edinburgh Global

Edinburgh hosts two international refugee conferences

The University of Edinburgh recently hosted the UNHCR & Times Higher Education Conference and the Universities of Sanctuary National Conference.

These events brought together individuals and institutions from across the higher education sector to discuss the growing global refugee crisis and develop a response to the need for safety and access to higher education for those seeking sanctuary. 

We were proud to host these important national conferences on supporting access to higher education for refugees with two key partners, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Universities of Sanctuary network. Today, over 100 million people across the world are forcibly displaced and only six per cent of refugees have access to higher education. Amongst those fleeing violence, persecution and armed conflict are talented scholars. Unable to continue their studies, research careers or access higher education, the world risks losing their knowledge and contributions forever. These conferences have brought together refugees, universities, policy makers, NGO’s and academics from all across the UK so that together we can work to improve access to higher education for those forcibly displaced and reach the globally agreed UNHCR target of fifteen per cent of refugees being able to access higher education by 2030.

Alan MacKayDeputy Vice-Principal International, The University of Edinburgh

UNHCR & Times Higher Education (THE) Conference

18 January 2023 at Playfair Library in Old College

The event posed the question ‘How can UK universities respond in a time of crisis?’ and addressed this challenge through a series of presentations and group discussions. Delegates included senior staff from UNHCR, THE, and University of Edinburgh, alongside representatives and speakers from:

  • University of Oxford
  • The University of Auckland
  • SOAS University of London
  • Universities of Sanctuary
  • University of Nottingham Malaysia
  • Cara
  • University of Sussex
  • Kings College London
  • The Association of Commonwealth Universities

Presentations looked at how HE organisations can create the outcomes needed to address the problems faced by refugees within the current higher education landscape and promote the inclusion of refugees at UK universities through improved collaboration. An organised discussion looked at how UK universities respond to refugee crises outside of the UK.

The event closed with a debate on ‘Meeting the challenge and how we grow’ moderated by James Smith, Vice-Principal International.

UNHCR Homepage

Universities of Sanctuary conference

19 January 2023 at Pollock Halls

The event brought together 159 attendees from across the national and international HE sector and delivered a series of presentations and discussions based on the theme ‘Forced Migration and Access to Higher Education: Reuniting Communities’.

This conference was an opportunity not just for celebrating and recognising good practice, but also to find solutions and offer peer-to-peer support, networking and learning from each other.

Education should be a right not a privilege. That's why our Universities of Sanctuary network works hard to ensure that more people seeking sanctuary have access to higher education. Because education is opportunity, it’s possibility, it’s freedom. Right now, over a third of all UK universities either have the award or are working towards it - this is a real sea change in the sector. This is a movement led by students, activists, lecturers, university staff and more working together to create welcome and equal access in higher education, and our conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh was the perfect celebration of everything that has been achieved by the network and all our ambitions for the future.

Sian Summers-ReesChief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK

Debora Kayembe, Rector for the University and former board member of the Scottish Refugee Council, opened the event with an impassioned vision for the University as a place of sanctuary for those who need it.

Sanctuary is a place of healing, a place of recovery, and a place of remaking or re-inventing yourself; Universities of Sanctuary including Edinburgh will be tailoring research, inclusive strategies, and practices in order to provide a welcoming culture in the wider community and across the Higher Education sector in the UK.

Debora KayembeRector, The University of Edinburgh

Attendees listened to a presentation from Duolingo titled ‘English Language Testing and Improving Educational Equity for Refugees’ before taking part in a series of workshops about key issues affecting both displaced academics and the institutions that support them.

About the Universities of Sanctuary network

How we support staff and students impacted by distressing global circumstances


The University of Edinburgh was the first university in Scotland to be accredited as a University of Sanctuary. Hosting events like these reaffirms the University’s longstanding commitment to building networks to support all those in need of sanctuary and facilitating change by exchanging knowledge, skills, and experience with those who share our vision of an inclusive and safe space within the HE sector.


The University of Edinburgh as a University of Sanctuary

Supporting our community during the invasion of Ukraine