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Nigeria takes up case of its Teesside University students ordered out of UK

High Commission to meet leaders at university after currency crash in home country meant students couldn’t pay for tuition
The Curve teaching site at Teeside University. Changes to repayment plans led to financial difficulties for Nigerian students. Photograph: Peter Jordan/Alamy

Delegates from the Nigerian high commission in London are to meet bosses from Teesside University to discuss the treatment of a group of students who were ordered to leave the UK after failing to meet tuition repayments.

The Nigerian students were left distressed and in some cases suicidal after they were involuntarily withdrawn from their courses and ordered to leave, in what has been described as a “serious diplomatic issue”.

 

Nigeria has been a growth market for university recruitment in recent years, with more than 44,000 students registered at UK institutions in 2021-22. There are now fears that prospective students will look elsewhere.

Yemi Soile, the founder and head coordinator of the Nigerian Students’ Union UK, accused Teesside University of failing in its duty of care. “Students were not supported. Their mental health and wellbeing was not considered,” he said.

Soile said about 60 students at Teesside fell behind in their tuition fee payments after the value of their savings was reduced because of a currency crash.

He also claimed they had been misled over repayments. They had come to the UK under the impression the fees could be spread over seven instalments, only to find out the terms had changed at the start of the 2023-24 academic year to three instalments, Soile said.

One student was forced to sell his house in Nigeria to try to meet his debts. Others, having been removed from their courses, were notified by UK Visas and Immigration that they had 60 days to leave the country.

The university has since apologised. A spokesperson said affected students have been offered mental health support and individual meetings with specialist staff, “and where possible, solutions have been found to support them to continue or complete their studies”.

According to Soile there are still 21 Teesside students whose cases have not been resolved and they may have to return to Nigeria and complete their studies remotely. “This is a serious diplomatic issue,” he said.

He added: “People have decided to come all the way here. They sell their properties, they leave everything, and then we’re telling them to go back, just like that, to nothing?”

The university said it was in dialogue with various Nigerian agencies and welcomed a meeting with representatives from the Nigerian high commission.

A university spokesperson said: “Students who fail to make their agreed tuition payments are sent multiple communications and offered support around revised payment plans, with the decision to withdraw their student access taken as a last resort.

“Once withdrawn, the university is obliged to report this to the Home Office, who may then issue a visa cancellation notice. A very small number of students are in this position and we are working to support them on a case by case basis.”

Universities UK, which represents 142 institutions, said many students from Nigeria were facing financial difficulties as a result of the currency crisis that began last year.

About 1,000 students at the University of Sussex – from Nigeria, Iran and other countries affected by financial difficulties – have been warned they may be unable to graduate or re-register for the next academic year if they fail to pay outstanding debts.

Sussex said no students would be removed from their courses this academic year due to unpaid debts, but a deadline had been set for 31 May, after which the situation would be reviewed and next steps communicated to students.

A UUK spokesperson said: “In these very difficult circumstances for students, universities have sought to work with students to understand their circumstances and provide what assistance they can. This may include flexibility in terms of fee payment schedules, offering to defer enrolments or to refund deposits to students where prospective students were concerned that their studies were no longer affordable, and offering support and advice for those that were already in the UK.

“However, visa and immigration rules do mean that, unfortunately, universities may need to withdraw sponsorship where a student is unable to complete their studies – though this is always a last resort.

 

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