A SYRIAN refugee boy who arrived penniless in Britain after stowing away in the back of a frozen chip van has launched an innovative programme to make a leading school more accessible to gifted pupils.

Sulaiman Wihba, 21, says he was “incredibly lucky” when he was given a full scholarship to the £30,000 a year Brighton College.

And just three years after arriving in the UK with just the clothes on his back he was awarded a place at Oxford University.

Now, as he is about to start his second year at the university, he has returned to the college to launch a 110 per cent scholarship scheme which aims to open up the prestigious school to talented children from less affluent families.

From September 2020, Brighton College is offering 20 110 per cent Opening Doors scholarships to academically gifted, talented and ambitious pupils.

Richard Cairns, the head master, said: “The new scholarship scheme is to benefit not just those who have been dispossessed but also those who have faced disadvantage through no fault of their own here in Brighton and its vicinity or in other coastal communities nearby, many of which face serious social and economic challenge.

“These scholarships are aimed first and foremost at talented and ambitious young people from the area for whom our pastoral care and academic rigour would offer a life-changing opportunity.

“This may include those who are eligible for free school meals; those who are in care or have been in care; those who would be the first in their families to go to university; or pupils who may have experienced some other disadvantage in their young lives, such as being a refugee.

“The Opening Doors programme is aimed at young people who would be excited by the opportunity to continue their education with us, with a view to accessing a place at a leading university.”

Sulaiman fled Syria with his mother, an engineer, and endured a five-hour sea crossing to Europe on a dangerous overcrowded boat.

Surviving by eating dates, they broke into a refrigerated van in Calais and arrived here with just the clothes they wore.

They found accommodation in Brighton and Sulaiman and a refugee friend, Elias Badin, volunteered to teach English to newly arrived Syrians who used the college’s facilities.

They came to the attention of head master Richard Cairns who offered both boys scholarships to the school.

Three years later Sulaiman was awarded a place at Oxford University to study mathematics while Elias went to study medicine at King’s College, London.

Sulaiman was awarded the Balliol Students’ Scholarship for a refugee student which allowed him to take up his university place.

He said: “Without a scholarship I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get to Oxford and I am massively grateful to Brighton College.”