The incredible story of the asylum seeker who is now a Manchester PhD student

University of Manchester

A young man from Somalia with no formal education has triumphed through adversity to become the first-ever asylum seeker to be admitted onto a PhD programme by The University of Manchester.

Abbas Roble came to England in 2007 having travelled through Africa to the Libyan coast, on a people smuggler’s boat across the Mediterranean to Crete, and then on through Europe. He was detained by the UK immigration authorities for a year, and on his release, he was determined to educate himself.

He joined a college in Leeds to take his GCSEs and an Access to Higher Education course, after which he was offered a place to study Physics in Manchester. However, he couldn't take up the offer due to his immigration status, and his classification as an international student which meant astronomical student fees and no access to student finance.

He had to defer his place for two years, until the Helena Kennedy Foundation’s Article 26 project granted him a full tuition fee bursary and a small grant. The project takes its name from Article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights, which states that education is an inalienable human right and should be accessible to all.

He joined the class of 2012, but as he couldn't afford to pay rent, he continued living with a family in Leeds and commuting to Manchester – which he did every day for three years. However, after an appeal from The University’s Director of Student Experience, an academic who lives close to campus generously offered to provide Abbas with free accommodation in term time for his final year.

He was receiving very high grades throughout his degree, but it would still have been near impossible for him to find the funding for a PhD programme. Manchester alumnus and longstanding donor David Buckley then heard Abbas’ story and was inspired to make a substantial and generous donation to the University to help. With the guarantee of funding in place, Abbas obtained a first class Masters of Physics with Theoretical Physics, and is about to start his PhD at the Photon Science Institute.

“Manchester is where new physics is born. It's where the atom was split, the first computer was built and graphene was isolated. The University is a world-leading institution for fundamental physics, and Manchester is a beautiful cosmopolitan city, so I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to have the perfect student experience.”
Abbas Roble

Dr Tim Westlake, The University of Manchester’s Director of Student Experience, said: “Abbas is an exceptional young man, and I’m delighted that the University, with the help of donors, has been able to support him in his studies. We are profoundly grateful for David’s gift, which has helped Abbas finally reach his goal, and the partnership with the Helena Kennedy foundation is greatly valued. We look forward to welcoming more students like Abbas in the future.”

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