The story of an international student in London

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Yesterday I got chatting to the person sitting next to me in a coffee shop. He’s an international student in London. He had an awful experience that depicts the state of higher education in the UK for international students.

He came to London two years ago, he had studied in three institutes across London, two of those went bankrupt and had to close. His fees were never paid back. After the first bankruptcy he had to pay £2000 to get into another college – and again the college went bankrupt and he had to repeat the fee paying process for a third time.

He was angry at the government because he said they are doing nothing to stop the mushrooming growth of bogus institutes and certification agencies popping up around the country and defrauding international students. With the UKBA Tier4 evaluation system, the government allows colleges to invite international students as they please, they enrol them and charge heavy fees – usually £6000 – £10,000 per year – up front. But the UKBA is able to cancel the international status (Tier4 sponsoring status) of those institutes within two years with no obligation upon them to financially compensate the devastated international students. Usually colleges close down their premises after they lose their Tier 4 sponsoring status. Nobody can then trace the owners and find out what happened to them or all the money afterwards.

He said that the institutes he attended were quite strange. For example, his second institute was in an old building near central London with the reception in a small office on 2nd floor; one classroom on the ground floor and two on the 3rd floor – that was it! The classrooms were shared with other colleges that had different receptions in the same building. Other neighbouring offices in the building were mainly those of travel agents, city traders, lawyers, currency exchanges and massage parlours. To his surprise, the college was listed as ‘highly trusted institute’ in the list of UKBA for sponsoring Tier 4 Visa for international students.

He explained, “Once their institute is closed, UKBA gives students a very short time to enrol in another institute otherwise they face being locked up in an immigration detention centre and forcibly deported. Although the international student’s visa is still valid, UKBA asks students to re-apply for a new visa with the new CAS letter from their newly enrolled institute. Students have to pay heavy fees for this to UKBA. I’ve seen my friends, not having enough money to enrol in another college or to pay the visa fee, being handcuffed, dragged in the streets from their rooms and pushed into police vans – ultimately ending up in immigration detention centres and then deported. Almost all of them hire expensive lawyers while in detention, but still they are deported.

The UKBA is profiting; bogus institutes are profiting; and lawyers are profiting out of all this. International students and their families are destroyed in this process.

Police took another of my friends into detention. His institute closed down after one year. Although his switching-over period had not ended and he was about to enrol in another college the police still took him. He explained everything to the authorities but they didn’t listen and put him in a detention centre. He called me for help. Me and my other friends arranged a lawyer for him who helped his release from a detention centre. The lawyer charged £1800 for his services to which we all contributed and helped our friend in need.

He was frightened and also became sick. He was afraid to go to the doctor as he didn’t want to end up in a detention centre again. We’ve given him paracetamol – but he is getting weaker and I think he needs to see a doctor. But he won’t listen to us and says it would be better to die than to return to his country without a degree. He said that his parents took heavy loans to send him to the UK for a degree – and can’t go back without this because he won’t get a job back home and won’t be able to contribute to his father’s medical and hospital expenses.”

Explaining his own financial condition, he continued, “To cover my recurring high fees I had to work in the chicken and chips shop in London for £4 per hour in the evenings. Yes, I know, the salary is very little but I was better-off than most of my buddies. My friends were hired for 10 days probation without salary and then they were fired during their probation period. The shop owners lay off everybody within the probation period. But luckily we have family connections with the owners of the shop back home so they hired me after the probation period.

I got fed up with the raids on the shop by the authorities – they questioned me every time. Luckily, I found another job with a security company where I have to work from 6pm-6am. I sleep 3 hours per day. The problem of finding a job with a well known company has got a little easier than in previous years. Now it’s possible to get a job with a well known company, but with similar pay and working conditions as in the chicken and chips shop.”

I asked him why he didn’t just leave this miserable life and go back home? He explained that his parents spent a lot of money sending him to study in the United Kingdom, money they got through loans. He can’t go back without a degree – he wouldn’t get a job and there would be serious consequences for his family.

After listening to the whole of his story I was wondering whether this is someone who needs the horrors of capitalism explained to him. Probably not. This is a student who is living those horrors and who needs a revolutionary socialist solution to his problems.

 

By Arsalan Ghani, Cambridge Marxists