Many Syrian students studying in the UK face the possiblity of explusion from university and the threat of being deported if they can’t pay their tuition fees.
As the conflict in Syria continues to ravage the country, Syrian students studying in the UK are facing mounting tuition fees that many are unable to pay.
This is due to the cancellation of government scholarships within the country and the difficulty families are having wiring money to help support students.
Those who cannot afford to pay the tuition fees face the possibility of expulsion from university and the threat of being deported back to Syria, where their lives could be in danger.
UEA currently lists that there are four Syrian students attending the university, but there are also students currently studying a foundation course at INTO who have not been accounted for in this number.
Odai, a Syrian PHD student studying at UEA spoke to Concrete about the situation: “Everything has collapsed in Syria because of the war and we think that it is the responsibility of the university to protect people who are suffering under these conditions.
“We want the Syrian students here at UEA, and across the UK, to be able to finish their studies and help them later on to find a job whether in the UK, Europe or in neighbouring countries. If students can’t pay their fees they have to go home right now.”
International students who cannot pay their tuition fees are usually expelled from university and have only 60 days to remain in the UK until their student visa expires and they must return home. The UK Border Agency however stated in January that students from Syria who lose the right to study in the UK can remain in the country until 15 March 2013, but there is yet to be any information over what will happen to students after this date has passed.
Some Syrian students have expressed concern that if sent back to Syria they may face imprisonment for stating their opinions over President Bashar al-Assad’s regime through the use of social media and writing critical articles for newspapers and websites while abroad.
Odai stated that he had issues with the regime and, being an activist, was unsure of what would happen to him if he had to return to go home. However, he made it clear that not all Syrian students currently in the UK are against the regime.
Odai and other Syrian students feel that the issue regarding the payment of tuition fees should not be a political, but a humanitarian one.
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts stated:
“The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is doing everything it can to support Syrian students in the UK who are encountering difficulties due to the current situation in Syria.”
Foreign secretary William Hague also stated that it is up to the universities themselves to come up with a solution for the issue. So far UEA has not implemented any sort of fee waiver for students from Syria.
Odai claims that the Syrian students need their fees to be waived.
“If you postpone the fee there’s no way that the Syrian student can get the money in time to pay their fees. It will take them 10 to 20 years”
The motion to pressure the university to waiver fees for Syrian students has been backed by the Student Union. When asked about the situation at Union Council on 28 January, Vice-Chancellor of UEA Professor Edward Acton said:
“I am not going to say that we will waiver the fees, but let me assure you that we are watching very closely because we wouldn’t want to see a young person’s life disrupted.” He explained that they had not waived fees in the past for students from Iraq or Gaza.
Other universities across the UK such as the University of Salford and Leeds have already acted, helping students through hardship fund schemes or deferring tuition fees.
Many students involved in the campaign at UEA believe the next step now is to start a campus-wide petition to show support for Syrian students.
The campaign group Avaaz has set up a petition to urge the UK government to guarantee that students from Syria can complete their university education in the UK. The petition can be signed online by visiting the Avaaz website, www.avaaz.org