Shattered dreams: How naira devaluation sent Nigerian students out of UK varsity

It is a story of shattered dreams as some Nigerian students at Teesside University, United Kingdom, were thrown off their courses and ordered to leave the UK after the devaluation of the naira left them struggling to pay tuition fees as and when due.

The students were blocked from their studies and reported to the Home Office after the value of the naira plummeted, wiping out their savings, a BBC report says.

Some of the students said they felt “suicidal”, accusing the university of taking a “heartless” approach to those who fell into arrears as a consequence.

A spokesman for the university, however, said failure to pay was a breach of visa sponsorship requirements, and that it had “no choice” but to alert the Home Office. The Home Office, on the other hand, said visa sponsorship decisions rested with the institution.

Depleted ‘proof of funds’

Before beginning their studies at Teesside, as with other UK universities, affected students were required to show proof of having enough funds to pay tuition fees and living expenses.

Those funds, more often than not, are affected by the exchange rates of the naira to the host country’s currency. For example, Gabriel, who was once in the process of applying for a student visa to the UK and was satisfied that he had already met the required funds threshold, was devastated when the naira plummeted, leaving his funds depleted.

Such was the case with the affected Teesside University students, whose funds were significantly depleted as a result of the crisis in their home country.

This exacerbated financial problems already being experienced by students as a result of the university changing tuition fee payment plans from seven installments to three.

Kicked out after nearing course completion

A group of students, 60 of whom shared their names with the BBC, began pressing the university for support after a number of people who defaulted on payments were frozen out of university accounts and involuntarily withdrawn from their courses.

Some were reportedly also contacted by debt collection agencies contracted by the university.

According to the BBC, Adenike Ibrahim was close to handing in her dissertation at the end of two years of study when she missed one payment and was then kicked off her course and reported to the Home Office.

She subsequently paid the outstanding fees, but said she had not been re-enrolled and was told she must leave the country, along with her young son.

“I did default [on payments], but I’d already paid 90 per cent of my tuition fees and I went to all of my classes,” she was quoted as saying.

“I called them and asked to reach an agreement, but they do not care what happens to their students.”

She said the experience was “horrendous” and she did not know what was happening with her qualification.

“It has been heartbreaking for my son especially, he has been in so much distress since I told him,” Ms Ibrahim added.

No right of appeal

The Home Office told students, including Ms Ibrahim, that their permission to enter the UK had been cancelled because they stopped studying at the university.

The letters, seen by the BBC, offer a date by which the student must leave the country and say they do not have a “right of appeal or administrative review against the decision.”

Since receiving his letter, one masters degree student – who did not want to be named – said he had seriously considered suicide and was not eating or drinking.

The university said it had made “every effort” to support affected students, who had now been offered individual meetings with specialist staff and bespoke payment plans where requested.

On the verge of depression

Esther Obigwe said she repeatedly tried to speak to the university about her financial struggles but received no response until she too was blocked from her studies and received notice to leave the country.

“I attended all of my classes and seminars, I’m a hell of an active student,” she said.

“It is disheartening, I am now on antidepressants and being here alone, I have nobody to talk to.

“For over two months, I’ve barely eaten or slept and I don’t understand why this is being meted at us, we didn’t do anything wrong.”

She added that most of the students had “spent a lot of money to be here.”

Some affected students have managed to pay off outstanding fees, but the university is now unable to intervene in the Home Office process, the BBC reports.

A university spokesman said, “Teesside University is proud to be a global institution with a diverse student population but is also very aware of its obligations regarding visa issuance and compliance.

“These strict external regulations ensure that the university fully supports a robust immigration system and is outside of the university’s control.”

Shattered dreams

For many Nigerian students in the UK, acquiring their education in Britain is a dream come true. Some travel to undertake their studies in the UK after taking loans or selling off property worth millions of naira.

Some take the student route as a way to fulfill their dreams of finding greener pastures, while others travel to study abroad to escape the harsh economic situation in Nigeria. The inability to achieve these goals would mean shattered dreams for them.

For the affected Teesside University students, the naira devaluation policy of the Nigerian government has shattered their dreams, and it remains to be seen how many more Nigerian students will be affected by the economic crisis in their home country.

Samuel Bolaji

Samuel Bolaji holds a Master of Letters in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an experienced researcher, multimedia journalist, writer, and Editor. He is currently the Editor of Arbiterz.

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