The World University Service (WUS) was a small organisation that had a reputation for having administered scholarship programmes for Hungarian and Czechoslovak refugee students in the late 1950s and 1960s, as well as for combating educational discrimination and apartheid in Southern Africa.
WUS involvement with Chile began in October 1973, when Alan Angell approached its General Secretary (1973-1981) Alan Phillips on behalf of Academics for Chile (AFC) and suggested that WUS should develop a scholarship programme for academic and students from this country, violently overtaken by Pinochet's military coup. In November 1973, the WUS Council agreed to promote a scholarship programme for Chilean Refugee students on campuses, and launched a campaign with AFC, both for bursaries and for the waiving of fees and residential accommodation.
The programme ran from 1973 to 1985. It succeeded in assisting more than 900 Chileans to continue or complete their studies in the UK. WUS literally saved many lives and provided a source of moral and practical support for the WUS grant holders and their families as well. Support was also provided to enable completing students to return to Latin American and Chile to contribute to local development, when it became safe to do so.
What was the role of the WUS programme for Chilean Refugees Scholars?
During a period of 6 months and with very modest resources, immense good will and great commitment by a small team, especially Liz Fraser, Tom Shebbeare, John King, Christine Whitehead, Marilyn Thompson, Pauline Martin, Gerry Martin and Alan Angell, active contacts, and support groups were established in 60 Universities and Polytechnics throughout the UK. Additionally, the fundraising campaign raised over £39,000 from public donations and grants by foundations, a number that can be multiplied ten times for today’s prices.
The WUS programme was very complex. On the one hand, many of the people assisted were or had been in danger, some had been tortured, were in hiding or in prison; and there were many challenging issues of adaptation and settlement, of understanding British culture, the English language, the social and educational system while coping with the pain of exile and the hopes for the future. On the other hand, WUS had to organise long, sometimes secretive, lines of communication, extending from those in secret addresses in Chile to FLACSO and CLACSO in Chile and Argentina, to WUS in London, to University Departments and to individual academics, who offered crucial advice matching individuals to courses.
As the WUS General Secretary, Alan Phillips lobbied the UK government with the support of AFC. This was problematic, as Minister Judith Hart’s commitment to Chile was not shared by most of the cabinet and there was great wariness among civil servants in the British Overseas Development Ministry (ODM), and hostility by officials in the Foreign Office and the Home Office. A special visa arrangement was made to simplify procedures but this proved highly problematic.
However, due to WUS partnership with AFC, it was possible to request funding on behalf of this non-political charitable organisation, putting forward the humanitarian and development case to Judith Hart’s private office and her political advisers, who were most supportive, while discussing and negotiating technicalities with the relevant department and desk in the ODM.
Once funding was secured from the ODM in July 1974, thanks to Hart's sympathy for the Chilean cause, a WUS awards committee was established, which included ODM officials, Alan Angell and several others members from AFC. The remarkable work of the Joint Working Group for Chilean Refugees and the Chile Committee for Human Rights led by Wendy Tyndale overcame some of the obstacles caused by the antiquated and inadequate structures in place to support refugees arriving in Britain.
Eventually, WUS used its practical experience and good reputation, to work with other support groups and organisations like Christian Aid and Oxfam to transform the refugee landscape, helping to form the British Refugee Council, which was then able to provide much more effective statutory support for refugees. It has been a major force for good, for realising the human rights of refugees over the last three decades.
Based on Alan Phillips's testimony
General Secretary WUS (UK) 1973-1981
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