Student achieves master’s degree while waiting for asylum application
By Sarah Wood
An asylum seeker from Syria has overcome emotional and physical challenges to achieve a first-class master's degree in cyber security at University of Gloucestershire.
With an armed conflict taking place in Syria that has displaced millions of people, Mohammed Hady Taresh arrived in the UK in 2022, seeking refuge and a better future for his wife, Jollanar, and their five-year-old daughter, Alice.
Previously, Mohammed had enjoyed a rewarding 10-year career in ICT initiatives, digital transformation, project management and business development in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus.
But he faced difficulties working abroad during and after the pandemic and, fearing for his own safety and that of his family if they returned to Syria, he applied for asylum in the UK.
Mohammed was not legally permitted to work in the UK while his asylum application was processed by the Home Office, so he decided to spend his time constructively by enrolling on the university's master's degree programme in cyber security.
Mohammed was unable to open a bank account during the asylum application process. So he became the first postgraduate student to be awarded the university's Michael Perham Sanctuary Scholarship, which helped to cover living expenses, by providing support such as food vouchers and travel tickets to and from campus. The scholarship includes a full tuition fee waiver, as well as a maintenance allowance.
Mohammed and his family lived together in one room at an asylum hostel in Cheltenham for the first eight months of the programme. They were then unexpectedly moved by the Home Office to a one-bedroom flat in London, so he had to commute to complete the course.
Mohammed's commitment to his studies paid off, when he was awarded a first-class degree in cyber security, which he will receive at the university's graduation ceremony at Cheltenham Racecourse next week.
Mohammed said: "Achieving a first-class master's degree in cyber security is a significant milestone for me and my family, and it fills me with pride.
"We came to the UK seeking safety from the challenges we had faced while living abroad in different countries, after I left Syria in 2013, particularly during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I didn't have the luxury of even thinking about going back to Syria, where the conflict is ongoing, without imagining the worst scenarios.
"The uncertainty surrounding my asylum application was a constant source of stress because it impacted not only my studies, but also the wellbeing of my family.
"The emotional and financial support I received from the university, particularly the chaplaincy, motivated me to remain determined to complete my degree and build a better future for myself and my family."
While studying for his master's degree, Mohammed represented the university at the National Cyber Security Innovators Challenge 2023 in London and was appointed to the Cyber Runway programme for 24 budding cyber entrepreneurs.
He was also interviewed live on television by Sky News Arabia and Al Mashhad News to provide expert comment on developments within the cyber security industry.
Mohammed has been granted five years' leave to remain by the Home Office, which means he is now able to work and open a bank account.
Mohammed said: "I'm trying to be active in the cyber industry events, conferences and expos. I am eager to contribute to the cyber security industry and give back to the community that has supported me.
"I am so grateful to my local friends in both Gloucester and Cheltenham for their support and friendship along this journey, because they have made the path easier for us."
Jo Parkin, chaplain at the university, said: "It has been a true privilege to work with Mohammed over this last year.
"He is extremely able in both his academic studies and their practical applications, and his wonderful grade is a fitting testament to all his hard work.
"He and his family have been through an extremely challenging and at times deeply unpleasant period in their lives, but through it all, Mohammed has been unfailingly positive, open, helpful and kind to those around him. We wish Mohammed and his family all the very best for the future."
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