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UK’s Discriminatory School Fees By Tundun Adeyemo

March 20, 2012

Many universities in the United Kingdom, UK, routinely recruit students from the Third World. Students from countries like Nigeria, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example, are recruited through adverts in newspapers and magazines. But Damian Green, the immigration minister, has accused the consultants who work on behalf of these overseas students of selling ‘immigration’ and not ‘education’. He rejected the suggestion that visa regulations could damage the legitimate recruitment of overseas students.

According to him, “there is no incompatibility between a strong university sector and tough border controls. We are reforming the student visa system because it has been abused for too long, with providers selling immigration, not education.

The overseas education market is worth £5 billion to the British economy.  It is thought that by 2025, this market will be worth £16.9 billion to the UK economy.  A lot of that money comes from struggling Nigerian parents who want the very best education for their children. More mature students who come for postgraduate studies pay exorbitant international fees through their noses. In late 2010, the UK government announced significant changes to tuition fees and funding arrangements for full-time UK/European Union, EU undergraduates. These changes are coming into effect at the beginning of the 2012 academic year. Student bodies resisted these changes nationwide through protests and marches, but the Coalition government pressed on and made the changes nonetheless.

The difference between what the Home/EU students pay is significantly lower than what international students pay. For example, the University of Cambridge will charge UK/EU students £9,000 for all undergraduate courses in the 2012/2013 academic year whilst international students can expect to pay between £13,011 (for classroom-based subjects) to £31,494 for medicine and veterinary medicine. The London School of Economics will charge £8,500 a year for all its undergraduate degree programmes starting in 2012. Continuing UK and EU students will remain on the old system of fees and financial support, which is around a quarter of £8,500.

Under the 2012 arrangements, UK/EU students in all British universities will not be required to pay any tuition fees up front. Instead, the cost of tuition will be covered by a non-means tested government loan, which students will only start to repay once they have left their programme and are earning over £21,000 per year.  At the time of writing, the London School of Economics had not published what it would charge overseas students. It is thought that its fees for international students will roughly be in the region of £14,000 to £15,000. The Kings College London in its 2012/2013 academic year would charge £14,000 for all classroom-based programmes, £17,800 for all laboratory-based programmes, £33,000 for all clinically based programmes and £7,000 for all foundation programmes.  In sharp contrast, they would charge UK/EU students a mere £9,000.

The increase in fees of overseas students is disgraceful and disgusting. Sadly, this increase does not deter super rich Nigerians from studying in the UK still. Nigerians are forced to pay for Nigeria’s ineptitude. On the Guardian’s League Table, Middlesex University is rated as number 75, yet it charges overseas students £10,400 for its undergraduate degrees while UK/EU students pay £9,000.

The irony of all this is that the Nigerian government has not moved significantly beyond promising to build new universities to restore our ailing federal and state universities.  It is more bad news for Nigerian students and their parents as university heads in the UK have warned that the tightening of student visa rules undermines the drive to raise income from overseas students. A survey commissioned by the university group claims the public undervalues the financial worth of overseas students. The Home Office has further restricted the rights of international students’ ability to work or even stay. International students under the tier system can only work for 20 hours during term time and full time during holidays. Unlike before, it has become virtually impossible for the international student to work his way to pay his tuition fees.

Studying in the UK is not all that it is hyped to be. There is very little contact most times between lecturers and students, and cost of living, finding the right accommodation, cultural differences and adjusting to a rather lean budget can make life rather tedious for the overseas student.  Universities in other Western countries like Canada, the United States, Germany, and Norway offer more value for money than the UK. It must be said though that Nigerian employers prefer graduates from overseas universities for their strong literacy and numeracy skills as opposed to graduates from Nigerian universities, some of whom have nefariously paid for their degrees in cash/kind.

If Nigerian federal universities were not all derelict, if the federal government worked with Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities closely to meet their demands and ensure that university dons stay in their respective universities teaching, perhaps Nigerian students would get world-class education from their home soil. Sadly, getting the very best education has already stratified our society.  This stratification is by class and wealth and not by ability or merit. Children from very poor backgrounds can expect to go to impoverished polytechnics, colleges of education, and universities that are ill equipped to face the challenges of the modern world. In contrast, children of rich parents will have the option of attending Nigeria’s private universities and/or travelling overseas to the best universities around the world.

The most recent application figures published by the University College Admissions Service showed that the number of overseas applicants from outside the EU was 13 per cent higher than at the same stage last year. This data suggests that international students are not deterred by the increase in tuition fees. It also suggests that in spite of the abuse that the immigration minister has tried to curb, many more overseas students are looking to the UK for tertiary studies.

Nigerians need to be careful in their choice of colleges and universities, as more than 470 UK colleges were barred in 2011 from accepting new foreign students from outside Europe. They either had their licences revoked or did not sign up to a new inspection system. Many Nigerians have lost money because they have failed to research their chosen institution’s compliance with the Home Office regulations. The Home Office estimates that colleges could have brought in 11,000 students. Tighter rules were introduced on student visas primarily aimed at private colleges offering language or vocational courses. The changes were designed to weed out those colleges that were in fact involved in systematic attempts to get workers into the UK by helping them pose as students. Some 302 colleges have had their licences revoked and a further 172 are being allowed to continue to teach current students, but officials say they cannot sponsor any new ones from outside Europe.

If we all agree that educating Nigeria is a priority, then the federal government should move decisively to improve our present universities and make them competitive and modern. This would make sure Nigerians spend their hard-earned cash in Nigeria than in developing overseas universities. Also, it would reduce the trauma, loneliness and poverty that can be the plight of international students whose parents subsequently become unable to pay these exorbitant fees.

Culled from Tell, Tuesday 20th March 2012

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (Formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife)

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