A student who arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker from Somalia at the age of 14 has told the inspirational story of how she turned her life around with the help of the University of Huddersfield.

As a refugee RUKAYYAH YUSSUF wasn’t eligible for funding for a university place but a chance meeting with University of Huddersfield vice-chancellor Prof Bob Cryan – at Buckingham Palace – led to her being offered a scholarship. Here’s Rukayyah’s story in her own words.

Last week I was delighted to be welcomed back to the University of Huddersfield for my graduation ceremony after completing my Business Economics degree in 2021, achieving a first-class.

It was one of the proudest moments of my life. However, the road to success was not an easy one, and there were hurdles to overcome.

I arrived in the UK from Somalia as an asylum seeker when I was 14. I was unaccompanied and was fostered with a family in Slough, where I also went to school.

I had problems with bullies, fitting in and struggled with my GCSEs. No one believed in me. I was predicted Es and Fs at GCSE but, after a lot of hard work and dedication, I achieved great grades, including an A* in Mathematics and an A in Physics. I decided to continue my studies and undertake A-levels, where I achieved highly once again.

I was always keen to go to university as I wanted to ensure I had the best possible education. However, I was devastated to discover that I was not eligible for funding because of my status as a refugee.

The local council also explained that my living costs support would end if I went into higher education, meaning I was at a dead end. My chances of accessing higher education seemed slim.

Prof Bob Cryan receives the Queen’s Anniversary Prize from the Prince of Wales

I wanted to keep myself busy and try new things to better myself and my knowledge. After going on an outward bounds course in Wales, I completed a 19-day skills for life course.

I became more confident and was able to speak in public. The organisers asked me to go to Westminster to speak about my experience at one of their fundraising events.

I was incredibly nervous as public speaking was one of my biggest fears. However, I wanted to overcome this, so I decided to pursue the opportunity.

I presented my speech in front of over 200 people, one of whom was Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 2015, I presented at an outward bounds anniversary event at Buckingham Palace.

I was invited to share my story in schools, both in the UK and internationally. However, in early 2017, I was still told that I would not be able to fully fund myself through higher education and would have to wait for at least 10 years to be eligible for student finance!

I was invited to speak again at Buckingham Palace at an educational forum where I met Prof Bob Cryan, vice-chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, who told me about the support available at the university.

After I shared my A-Level results and personal circumstances with the university, I was offered a scholarship to study. It seemed like a miracle!

I started my university course a bit late, meaning I had a few things to catch up with. I was extremely fortunate to get one-to-one support from a professor at Huddersfield Business School.

Having this support, as well as the support from my module tutors, made an enormous difference and without doubt, helped me to reach my full potential. I was thrilled to achieve a first-class degree at the end of my course.

Rukayyah found her future in Huddersfield

Both staff and fellow students at Huddersfield Business School were incredibly supportive. My peers and teachers helped me with any problems I had, both with my studies, but also outside my studies as well.

I cannot imagine what I would have done without their support. Having support made me feel safe and part of the university family. I had someone I could speak to at any time.

After finishing my degree, I now run an online tutoring program, designed to support students with English as an additional language and aspire to help low-income families afford vital additional tuition as I believe in – and champion – equal access to education for everyone!

On reflection on my experience, I would encourage anyone who wants to pursue higher education to follow their dreams and never give up.

You never know what you can achieve with the right support and drive to excel. I am delighted that I can put my knowledge and skills to good use to bring about change and help others overcome barriers to education.