Consulting firm among proud sponsors of Birkbeck's Compass Project

10 August 2018 4 min. read

Following the success of Birkbeck’s Compass Programme in introducing refugees to higher education in the UK, the group has praised its partners, including professional services firm AlixPartners, for their support. In response, AlixPartners Managing Director Liam Colley was among those paying tribute to the programme's efforts.

Birkbeck, University of London has quickly become recognised as a leading voice in social responsibility for the UK’s higher education sector, with its now famous Compass Project particularly being marked out for praise in recent months. Refugees often face difficulty accessing traditional scholarships, arriving in the UK without documentation, limiting their ability to find work or to enrol in courses of study. Unlike those classified as refugees, their immigration status means they are treated as international students, with university fees set at the higher international rate combined with no access to loan support.

The Compass Project reaches out to help refugees and asylum seeker communities to provide some of society’s worst off with access to education in the Britain, enabling 20 forced migrants to complete a foundation year at Birkbeck, giving them the qualifications required to access undergraduate courses at other universities. The programme also sees participants provided with information, advice and guidance to those wanting to enter higher education, as part of Birkbeck’s continued commitment to improving access to education for those who have sought sanctuary in the UK. Those on the programme hail from all over the world and from a wide range of educational backgrounds.

Consulting firm among proud sponsors of Birkbeck's Compass Project

Speaking on the chances offered up by the initiative, Janahan Sivanathan, a member of Compass alumni – who arrived in the UK seeking sanctuary from Sri Lanka after his family became involved with the Tamil Tigers – recently told the Guardian, “This opportunity means everything. I never had a chance, there was always a barrier. Being an asylum seeker you have no right to work or education. You have no rights at all: you’re treated like an animal.”

The project is not a standalone organisation, and relies on significant assistance from internal and external organisations to complete its goals. This includes corporate partners which have provided much needed support, specifically in the outreach work that Compass does, which the organisation confesses it could not have done alone. These include law firm Allen & Overy and the Z Foundation, as well as consulting firm AlixPartners, which is a key sponsor of the programme.

Commenting on why the firm is so proud to back the Compass Project, Liam Colley, a Managing Director at AlixPartners, said, “Nowadays all universities face unprecedented commercial pressures, so it was great to see Birkbeck showing real leadership here, in a way that’s consistent with its core values and legacy of widening access to higher education for almost 200 years. We were delighted that that was recently recognised by the Guardian Higher Education Awards.”

Kate Cavelle, Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment at Allen & Overy meanwhile said, “We believe that enabling forced migrants to get employment is probably the best and most long-lasting way to enable a secure future for them. Obviously their education and qualifications are a vital step toward them getting that job.”

Helping migrants into employment

Since the emergence of the European refugee crisis into public discourse in 2015, a number of other professional services firms have also become involved in efforts to help those seeking safety across the continent. Since then, PwC in the Netherlands has taken a number of asylum seekers on-board, while international management consulting firm Oliver Wyman similarly announced that its Europe-wide Human Capital function, which oversees recruitment for the firm, would design a recruitment process to identify qualified applications from refugees arriving in Europe. In Germany, meanwhile, McKinsey & Company was commissioned to help shape the state’s response to the overwhelming number of migrants fleeing to European shores.