How to take our support for Ukraine’s learners to the front line

For two years, FE has championed Ukrainian learners in the UK. Now we can help those left at home too

For two years, FE has championed Ukrainian learners in the UK. Now we can help those left at home too

6 Mar 2024, 14:00

Last Saturday marked two years since the conflict in Ukraine began. While media attention has waned, the FE sector can be proud of its ongoing response for Ukrainian learners, here and at home.

As of last June, 179,500 people had arrived in the UK on one of the Ukraine visa schemes. That’s a significant number of people looking for a new life, and while they hope it’s only temporary, they bring with them valuable skills and ambitions, and a need to carry on their education, or their career.

The language barrier

Colleges have increased their teaching English as a second language provision to meet the resulting increase in demand. This isn’t just vital for those trying to access jobs but more broadly for day-to-day life.

At Newcastle College, part of NCG, we launched new classes designed specifically for Ukrainian refugees in June 2022, focused on employability and English language skills. These classes have allowed students to get the skills they need at the time that’s right for them, often supporting them to progress onto a college course which leads to employment.

A port in the storm

It’s not just the language barrier that is a challenge. It is hard for us to imagine some of the challenges that refugees continue to face, such as cultural events like Bonfire Night, where the sound of fireworks can be triggering for those who have fled a war-torn home.

Creating a learning space which feels safe has been a focus for many colleges. There are now 19 ‘Colleges of Sanctuary’ in the UK – a network of staff, teachers and students working together to make education inclusive and empowering.

Across our group, we are working to become Colleges of Sanctuary. Our colleges are also proud supporters of local efforts to establish more cities as a ‘City of Sanctuary’, a programme which engages with city stakeholders to welcome refugees and people seeking asylum, and to offer sanctuary to those fleeing violence and persecution.

Through NCG’s Our Community is Your Community programme, we have also continued to support refugees in our colleges’ local communities, to overcome the barriers of starting over in a new location and a new culture. Focusing on building social bonds and connections, employability, refugee entrepreneurship, and health and wellbeing, the programme helps newcomers navigate challenges such as automated telephone systems, setting up accounts and paying bills, or filling in forms to access support.

An ongoing commitment

Many colleges responded to the initial invasion of Ukraine by setting up donation points to collect essentials via organisations like our local Polish Centres and the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal from the Disaster Emergency Committee. This is something that we, along with many others in the sector, continue to do because we know the people who remain in Ukraine need food and medical supplies more than ever.

But while our strength as a sector is built on community and values, our raison d’etre is education. And why should war be allowed to stop that? One of the initiatives we are proudest to support – and you can too – is the Ukraine Twinning Initiative.

We are twinned with the Ukraine college Kryvyi Rih, to which we provide practical assistance and resources. This includes a donation of 25 laptops from our IT supplier to support its remote learning offer. Kryvyi Rih is in an area targeted by recent airstrikes and regularly experiences loss of power and water. While the conflict has prevented students and staff from attending the college, our partnership aims to support remote learning and ensure that the college community can continue to access education and training.

In addition, colleagues at Newcastle College continue to deliver regular professional development sessions to staff at the Kryvyi Rih college, providing access to new teaching resources, updates on practical techniques and an opportunity for colleagues to keep up-to-date with industry skills. Our ESOL department have held weekly English classes with those students, and we’re now exploring plans to teach joint classes to Ukrainian students.

It’s a partnership that has been valuable to our college as well as theirs, and while we hope to see a resolution to the conflict soon, we also hope to continue our partnership with our new Ukrainian colleagues beyond this crisis.

More from this theme

Colleges, Ukraine

‘I feel very protected’: how the UK’s colleges welcomed students from Ukraine

Colleges across the country have laid on more than just English language classes

Jason Noble

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *