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Advancing Education as a Right: Sanctuary in Higher Education

The year 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which established education as a right through Article 26 (external link) . Canada then became a signatory to the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (external link)  in 1976, endorsing the right to an education for all and equal access to higher education. In nearly 50 years since that commitment, efforts to improve access have been led by the federal and provincial governments, non-profit organizations, and higher education institutions. At the same time, forced migration and displacement due to international conflicts and climate change have changed student demographics. Changes to the immigration system over the last decade have left increasing numbers of migrants with varying forms of precarious immigration status and limited options for permanent residence. Considering that immigration status frequently determines access to services and institutions, there continues to be insurmountable barriers to post-secondary education. Potential students with precarious status face prohibitive costs of international fees without access to financial aid or scholarships, student permit requirements and obligations to produce other documents, and fear of detention or deportation. 

Spurred by the newly developed Sanctuary Scholars access pathway, this event series aims to imagine and conceptualize sanctuary at Toronto Metropolitan University. Guiding questions for sessions include: 

  • What is the relationship between practicing education as a right and sanctuary? What does sanctuary mean? What does sanctuary mean in the context of higher education? What do we, collectively as a community, envision sanctuary to be? 
  • What are the implications on safety and security, health and wellbeing, and community development?
  • Which current institutional policies and practices are exclusionary if we are working towards sanctuary? What limitations is a post-secondary institution faced with in advancing sanctuary? What is the role of administrators, faculty, staff, and students in creating sanctuary on campus? 
  • Is sanctuary possible in a post-secondary institution?


Supporting Sanctuary Scholars: Information Session for Faculty and Staff


  • Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at 12 PM
  • Thursday, January 18, 2024 at 12PM 
  • Tuesday, February 13, 2024 at 12PM 
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2024 at 12PM

Location: Virtual Online

Launched in September 2023, the Sanctuary Scholars program offered at TMU via the Office of Social Innovation (OSI), provides an access pathway specifically for students who hold precarious immigration status. We have furthered our commitment to welcome all people to an environment of belonging, based on the university’s values of inclusivity, innovation and excellence. We work continuously to establish a safe and welcoming place for Sanctuary Scholars. We take the confidentiality and the unique needs of this group very seriously. Through this information session we will build awareness of the challenges and vulnerabilities faced by students in the Sanctuary Scholars program, strategies to support these students, as well as resources sharing. We invite faculty, contract lecturers, TAs/GAs and staff to come and learn more about Sanctuary Scholars.




 Thursday, November 23, 2023  from 6-8 p.m. EST (In-person only)

Higher Education Access for Precarious Status Ontario Students (external link)   Hosted by: Women and Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto (external link) 

William Doo Auditorium, University of Toronto, 45 Willcocks Street
Free RSVP Link: (external link) 


  • Yvette Munro | Assistant Vice Provost Student Success, York University
  • Lorna Schwartzentruber | Associate Director Access Programs & Community Engagement, York University
  • Melanie Panitch | Executive Director Office of Social Innovation, TMU
  • Chris Coupland | Executive Director, Undergraduate Admission and Recruitment at Queen's University
  • Dwayne Benjamin | Vice Provost, Strategic Enrolment Management, University of Toronto
  • Rupaleem Bhuyan | UofT working Group for Access to Higher Education for Students with Precarious Immigration Status
  • Brantella Williams | York student, S4 Collective Project Coordinator


Thursday, November 2, 2023 at 12:30 PM EST.

(Virtual only) (Re)imagining Sanctuary through the Lens of Higher Education. Hosted by the Office of Social Innovation at TMU and the Centre for Refugee Studies (external link)  at York University. 

 (external link) 

Speakers: Tanya Aberman and Rebecca Murray

Higher education (HE) receives increasing international recognition as a priority response to people experiencing forced displacement and the precarity imposed by exclusionary immigration regimes. The prioritisation of HE by young refugees and migrants has been well documented, as youth have successfully advocated for access in various different contexts (Murray & Gray, 2021; Abrego & Négron-Gonzales, 2020; Villegas & Aberman, 2019; Baker et al, 2018). This paper draws on extensive research, advocacy and grassroots campaigning across the UK and Canada in the area of HE access, in order to explore how shared similarities and noted differences can shape new ways of understanding sanctuary. Opportunities in HE, as a response to displacement, have been hard-won across both countries, yet significant gaps remain in ensuring that students have equitable access, are welcomed and protected in HE institutional settings. The sanctuary university is the site from which we have developed and offer new ways of understanding sanctuary situated in a conceptual framework that offers practical applications, and which transcend geographical and institutional boundaries. We explore the elasticity of sanctuary as a term primarily used to understand praxis, through positioning ideas on a spectrum, reflecting a continuum (as opposed to conflicting) perspectives transitioning from (re)bordering to abolition (Mitchel, 2023; Lenard & Maokoro, 2021; Paik, 2020; De Haene, 2018; Bagelman, 2013; Rotter, 2011). We draw on this spectrum and our practitioner expertise to (re)imagine sanctuary as a nexus of access, welcome and protection. This nexus is underpinned by abolitionist sanctuary principles, intersectional praxis and grounded in the lived experience of people who have experienced displacement and who feel the borders most acutely.