Integration of forced migrants in the United Kingdom: the role of Higher Education Institutions

  • Isabelle Schafer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The main research aim of this thesis was to investigate how, if at all, UK universities were enabling the integration process of refugees and asylum seekers (RAS). To do this, the thesis focused on three universities: two in England and one in Wales. In each setting, semi-structured interviews were conducted with university staff, RAS students and with local organisations working with RAS. The university support for RAS students and the experiences of RAS students themselves were analysed, as well as university initiatives towards local RAS.
At the heart of this thesis lay the challenge of defining integration in practice and critically discussing the assumptions behind influential theorisations of integration. Many authors have conceptualised integration as a ‘two-way’ process (Ager & Strang, 2008; Berry, 1997). However, the concept had not been operationalised enough (Klarenbeek, 2021): there was a lack of discussion on how this process might look like in practice and on the role of institutions within this process. This thesis contributes to that discussion, as it suggests a way to conceptualise the role of universities in a ‘two-way’ integration process. To do this, the concept of reflective university was introduced, based on the work of Kagan & Diamond (2019) and Berry (2005). It depicts an institution that, on top of teaching and expecting its constituents (including RAS students) to adapt, also actively seeks its own change, based on the needs of its constituents and the different types of knowledge that they bring with them.
The thesis identified six sometimes conflicting roles that universities can play in the context of integration with RAS: (1) provider of education, (2) contributor to immigration control, (3) source of financial inclusion, (4) facilitator of accommodation, (5) creator of community links and (6) supplier of a social space. The discussion of how reflective the universities were in each role brought to light structural forces related to the neo-liberal environment taking root in HE, the legacy of UK colonial history and the UK government’s asylum policies. This thesis has thus found that there are multiple opportunities for universities to be reflective and engage in a two-way integration process with RAS, but that there are structural forces and systemic power imbalances that hinder the process to become fully reflective.
Date of Award2 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJason Hart (Supervisor) & Katharina Lenner (Supervisor)

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