Your own personal experience inspired you to set up Let us Learn. What kind of support does the organisation offer?
I created Let Us Learn to support young migrants who are blocked from taking up their places at university because they do not qualify for student finance – young people who, like I was, are regarded as international students despite having lived in the UK most of their lives.
I was very fortunate to receive a New Futures Fund scholarship to study at LSE, but realised there would be many other in my same situation who wouldn’t have that opportunity.
Our initial focus was campaigning for equal access to higher education, but the project has grown to provide more holistic support. Our partnership with Just for Kids Law allows us to provide advocacy, and we have an immigration supervisor to supplement our work. Recent legal aid cuts have seriously affected this area of law so offering that accessible pro bono representation and advice is very important.
Let Us Learn also runs a six-month leadership programme to help young people gain and develop essential skills they need to succeed in their careers.
What are its main achievements to date?
One of our first and greatest achievements was intervening in the hearing of the Tigere Case at the Supreme Court, providing case studies to call for a change in student finance rules that prevented young talented migrants from going to university. Hearing that the ruling was in our favour and learning that we helped to change the law meant a lot to us.
More recently, we’ve run a very successful campaign called #younggiftedandblocked to lobby 20 universities to increase the amount of scholarships available to young migrants who have grown up the UK but have temporary or indefinite immigration status. As a result, such individuals are now eligible to apply for 16 new scholarships.
When I set up Let us Learn in 2014 I didn’t quite realise how big it would become. In the beginning, it was only three of us in the room but within a few months we had 300 names on our database. Fast forward to now and we have over 1,000 people we are in contact with.
Mobilising young people in the same situation and raising the profile of the issues affecting us has also contributed to the appointment of a Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement in London – an initiative that I am now a part of.
Tell us about your new role as Policy Advisor at the Greater London Authority.
I was very excited to be given the job, I really felt it was the fruit of our labour and of our campaigning. Social integration is a matter that involves everyone, and having a cohesive society where people are able to prosper with equal opportunities benefits us all. I am proud to be part of this initiative and to help shape the agenda.
Working in a bureaucratic organisation is very different from working in a small charity, and is a great experience to have. I am learning how procedures work, finding out what is feasible and what isn’t, and I get the chance to interact with a wide variety of people.
I believe LSE prepared me well me for the roles I’m currently taking.
One of the key things I took out of my lectures is that you should always question things, rather than accepting them at face value. The School also encouraged me to be solution oriented: it is not enough to identify the problem, you need to focus on finding the solution – and that is something I try to put into practice at work every day.
What are the key issues facing young Londoners today?
One of the key issues is that our communities are more fragmented now because of Brexit. The positive side is that we are starting to realise that there is real value in diversity. We should also embrace diversity of thought, and perceive it as a good thing rather than as something that divides us.
Another key issue affecting young Londoners today is opportunity. I do believe there are enough opportunities to go around for everyone but, as a city, we should make sure we have the right framework in place for young people to advance in whichever career path they choose.
When you are at school, you are told that the world is your oyster, that you are the master of your own fate, but that notion of owning everything that happens to you is quite forced – reality is not quite like that.
As individuals, everyone has passions and goals and a destiny they want to reach, but we must take a closer look at our social structures to ensure they work for all of us.
This interview was conducted in 2018