A Syrian teenager is fundraising to study at Cambridge
An offer-holder from the war-torn country has set up a GoFundMe page to help him afford his dream
It is one of the most memorable moments in the life of any aspiring Cambridge student. However, when Abdullah Kattineh opened his acceptance letter, there was only cause for a muted celebration.
The Syrian teenager overcame the extremes of civil war in his country to receive an offer from his dream university, but the cost of living through the conflict means he currently can’t afford to take up his place.
“I may not be much of a hero, but living in a war-torn country definitely places me among the ranks of the underprivileged,” said 19-year-old Abdullah. “Life isn’t a walk in the park, but the Syrian war took our lives to new extremes. Necessities became luxuries for me and my family.”
Born in Damascus, Abdullah had already endured more challenges than most Cambridge students ever face before Corpus Christi College offered him the opportunity of a lifetime to read Natural Sciences.
Abdullah is the only Syrian to earn a place at Cambridge this year. Yet, as is the case with every international student, the offer is tied up with a financial commitment totalling more than £140,000 across the duration of undergraduate study, including £30,000 a year for tuition.
Abdullah applied for the Cambridge Trust Scholarship, which is supposed to provide funding for gifted students in financial need, but he was unsuccessful. Corpus Christi has so far refused to give any reasons for the decision and told Abdullah no other bursaries are available.
A student-led campaign to introduce a new scholarship to enable would-be refugee students to study at Cambridge is in the works, though it is unlikely to be up and running in time. Once successful, the campaign hopes to be able to support up to 10 students from areas of conflict.
“Unfortunately, my family can’t afford the university, college, and living costs to study at Cambridge,” Abdullah said. “The problem in Syria, beside the horrible economic situation, is that we don’t have visa cards or online bank accounts due to economic restrictions. As a result, I can’t receive help from anyone of my family or friends who are residents in Syria.”
This brought Abdullah to his last hope of becoming a leading Cambridge chemist: setting up a fundraising website. At the time of writing on Thursday morning, he had received $600 (£450) and counting of his $27,000 target. By 5pm on the same day, largely thanks to the generosity of around 50 Cambridge students, his total had shot up by £800.
Since the vast majority of Abdullah's family income goes towards keeping alive and well in Syria, his current situation leaves him unable to show the University he can commit to the required annual payments.
Coming to Cambridge for the admissions process was tough enough – not least because of visa delays, which held up his interview until January, two weeks after decisions should have been made.
The Cambridge Refugee Scholarship Campaign told The Tab in a statement: "Cases like Abdullah's – where students affected by war or humanitarian crisis have had to overcome so many challenges to continue their education and then are prevented by financial difficulties – show how important it is that Cambridge has a scheme in place to support these young people."
They added: "We believe that offering scholarships to refugees will empower these young people in the future and give them the opportunity to help build lasting peace around the world."
As Abdullah's story began to grab the attention of Cambridge students, CUSU's Access and Finance Officer Olivia Hylton-Pennant penned an open letter to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Graham Virgo asking the University to change its attitude towards refugee applicants.
"Over 50 universities across the UK offer scholarships and bursaries for refugee and asylum-seeking students," she wrote. "Given the size of Cambridge's endowment it's absolutely shameful that a student like Abdullah is having to fundraise in order to take up his place here."
A spokesperson for the College told The Tab: "Corpus Christi remains committed to attracting the best and brightest students regardless of their background and circumstances. While we do not discuss the details of individual circumstances, we are aware of the financial difficulties that international students from difficult backgrounds may face. In all cases we seek to offer as much assistance as is in our power."