International students take huge risks when they go abroad to study. I should know - I did this myself when I left Nepal to study at Middlesex University. We leave our own safety nets of friends and family for a new country, often having to adjust to a new language and culture. Countries like the UK - the second largest host of international students, after the USA - have a duty of care to international students to provide support when things go wrong.
Did you know that you have better protections with payday loan companies than international students do when studying a course in the UK? If your payday loan isn't quite what you expected or if the money never arrives you are protected - an alternative will be found for you. If the company you got it from put things that were not true, or they know to be misleading in their advertising, they will be fined. And if the company goes out of business, during your loan, you don't need to worry about suddenly finding an alternative loan. None of this is true for international students - they are at risk of being left thousands of pounds out of pocket with nothing to show for it. And that risk is a reality for international students right now.
Let's take the story of Kendrick, an international student from South Africa. Kendrick, just like me, wanted a working future and a career in a subject he was passionate about. He came to the UK from South Africa to get a degree, as he heard the UK was one of the best places to study in the world. Unfortunately when the Home Office revoked the Tier 4 licence of the college he was studying at, he lost everything. Like Kendrick, all international students are at risk when a college or university loses their Tier 4 licence, or becomes insolvent. There are thousands of students like Kendrick who have not only been denied their degree, but have been defrauded of tens of thousands of pounds.
Kendrick and the other 10,000 students at institutions who have had their Tier 4 licences revoked this year alone, have no say on why their institutions had their licence revoked. They have no right to change that decision, and no way of getting a refund for the thousands of pounds they have paid for their degrees. Instead they now only have 60 days to find a new place to study.
Some students still have a place to study but have no way to pay for it because their country is facing conflict or a humanitarian emergency. Iraq and Syrian students, who came to the UK with funding from their government, are now facing deportation without their degrees as their government has not paid their fees due to civil wars and their universities have no choice but to report them to the home office for non-payment.
We, as students in the UK, want to give universities and colleges the choice to let them stay, and want to give students like Kendrick a refund so they can afford to find a new place to study. That's why this election season, the National Union of Students (NUS) is asking the Government to create a student protection scheme which would allow students who have had their funding cut short due to humanitarian crisis or conflict, or who have lost thousands of pounds to a college or university unable to teach out their degree, to continue their education.
A mandatory scheme would allow universities and colleges to pay into a central fund, which could then be called upon when needed. It would provide a security net for those who need it, paid for by those who get an average of £12,000 per year, per student. It would give international students, studying in the UK, the security they need to complete the degree they put so much time, effort and money into. A mandatory scheme would signal to potential international students, who bring much needed internationalisation into our universities and colleges, that the UK values international students and will protect their investment when things go wrong. Universities and colleges have been talking and talking about this for years, but now is the time to take action - we cannot wait any longer.
We need all political parties to look at the mandatory financial protection scheme as a matter of moral responsibility to protect international students in the UK, who do not have any safety net to fall into in case of any organisational failure of their institution or conflict in their home country. This will not take any extra resource from the public purse, but will be asking the universities and colleges to protect their own students who are shown a beautiful British dream. Let's not watch their dream be shattered by either the Tier 4 licence revocations or civil wars in their home country. When candidates come knocking on your door this year - ask them to protect international students - they do it for payday loans.