Speak to immigrant students like me before you ‘deprioritise’ them
I arrived in the UK from Nigeria with my family at the age of eight to join my dad who lived here. All through my schooling, my parents were trying to sort out their immigration status. It’s a long and complicated process that ended with multiple appeals and applications.
Lots of money was spent on lawyers, and we only received our status – “limited leave to remain” – after I had left school. The stress of my immigration issues was one of the reasons I studied so hard: my education was something I could control; the immigration case was out of my hands, but studying was up to me.
If Theresa May’s policy of “deprioritising” those with unresolved immigration status had been in force then, sending them to the back of the queue for school places, I would have been one of those affected. However hard I worked, I would not have done as well had I been shunted off to a failing school – which is what Mrs May wants to happen to people like me.
My school, Robert Clack in Dagenham, east London, was one of the best state schools in the borough, with high demand for places. I loved school – almost too much. I felt at peace there, being around people who wanted to study as much as I did.
When I was in year 13, a friend and I set up a mentoring scheme for students in the year below. We realised there was only so much the teachers could do to prepare them for the stress of A-levels. It certainly made a difference. Of the 16 pupils we mentored, 12 went on to Russell Group universities.
It was nice to see students, regardless of what might have been going on at home, becoming excited about their education and at the prospect of doing well. I enjoyed being part of the journey.
I’m currently at a Russell Group university, in my first year studying history at King’s College London. My ambition is to become a lawyer. Two of my schoolfriends are now at Oxford. Like me, they came to the UK from Nigeria. Another friend, from Algeria, and one from Tanzania are at Warwick. One who came from Ghana is at Cambridge. Although they all arrived as young children, some of them were also finalising their immigration status as they went through school. Like me, they have had their applications accepted, and are on their way to becoming British citizens. These are the students that Mrs May wants to penalise for something that is not within their control.
Children’s immigration status is not their fault. I didn’t ask to come to the UK. But I have made the most of living here, and not just by studying hard. I am an e-mentor and student ambassador at my university. I am a young leader at my church.
I am also active in the Let us Learn campaign, which was set up by the youth justice charity Just for Kids Law in 2014. Even without Mrs May’s proposals to dump pupils like me in sink schools, children from migrant backgrounds already face additional barriers to our education. Even though we have grown up in the UK and this is our home, many of us are not recognised as “home students” by government or some universities. We aren’t eligible for student loans in the same way as most of our friends, and universities can charge us international fees – which can be as high as £26,000 a year.
My mum works as a carer and could never afford to meet these kinds of costs. I was only able start my degree this year thanks to a scholarship, which King’s set up to give students like me the chance to study. Without that, I would be stuck in educational limbo, after being turned down for a student loan. A handful of other leading universities have followed suit, but demand for this kind of funding far outstrips the small number of scholarships available. Many universities aren’t even aware of the issue.
Reform of the kind proposed by Mrs May would make matters far worse. Ambitious young people who have lived in the UK for most of their lives would have little chance of getting the grades we need for university in the first place, and so have no hope of ever pursuing a professional career.
Let us Learn is in touch with around 650 young people from all around the country, who have been offered university places that they can’t take up for lack of a student loan. They include would-be doctors, chemists, actors, lawyers, event organisers, social workers and scientific researchers, among others.
If Mrs May revises her “deprioritisation” idea, now she is prime minister, I would urge her first to speak to some of the hardworking and aspirational young people whose futures and careers she would be blighting.