WUS scholarship programme in the late 80s

I joined WUS (UK) in 1987, returning to the UK after three years working in Nairobi as CEO of the Environment Liaison Centre (a global network bringing development and environment NGOs together alongside the UN Environment Programme). I worked at the WUS offices in Compton Terrace in London until 1990, when I left to join Amnesty International UK as its Director. 

We were involved in a variety of scholarship programmes, helping academic victims of oppression to escape their home countries and come to the UK to study. Most of our work was funded by the UK aid programme. There was an increasing view that bringing refugees to the UK to study was not ideal and some programmes started also to include opportunities for study in neighbouring countries within the same region. The key scholarship programmes during that period supported people from South Africa (including through the Campus Scholarship Programme), the Horn of Africa, Chile, Palestine and Central America. The Campus Scholarship programme mobilised students and academics across the UK to raise funds to support one or more South African exiles to study on their campuses, administered by WUS. I believe that many of these scholars returned to South Africa after the end of apartheid and took up important leadership positions there. As well as offering scholarships to refugee students escaping human rights violations, we also began to offer opportunities for local NGO leaders to study in the UK, to help build civil society capacity in their countries of origin. 

At the field programme level, as distinct from scholarships, we supported refugee education in camps in Sudan. In the UK we also helped refugees and asylum seekers who had arrived under their own steam and were aiming to study or work in the UK. For some this meant they had to requalify in their profession in order to practice in the UK. We were able to advise on the rules around access to education for refugees and asylum seekers. 

I remember the office at Compton Terrace and the early days of using PCs at work! In those days we communicated by fax (a step up from Telex!). I remember getting our first Amstrad PC with a mouse-based interface, and I even had a very early (Zenith) “laptop” though it weighed a tonne and worked on DOS (pre Windows). When I started in 1987 WUS (UK) had a turnover of £1.2m a year. By broadening our programmes and focusing more on in-region education and NGO capacity building, as well as expanding our UK advice service, we were able to attract more funding and expand. When I left in 1990 turnover was up to £3m, though still largely institutional. 

My time at WUS taught me a great deal about NGO leadership, but more importantly about human rights. As WUS (UK) General Secretary, I also served on the Board of the Refugee Council. I was able to meet many of our scholarship students and UK refugees and asylum seekers and to hear first hand about their experiences.  I was inspired to spend the rest of my career fighting for human rights, first at Amnesty International UK and then, focusing on children’s rights, at UNICEF UK. 

Author profile
David Bull

David Bull was WUS UK General Secretary from 1987 to 1990. He developed a passion for human rights at WUS, leading to subsequent leadership at Amnesty International and UNICEF UK. He was honoured by the UK government for his international work and was awarded the CBE.