Young people who have spent most of their lives in the UK but find themselves ineligible for a student loan due to their immigration status are calling on universities to create scholarships to allow them to continue their education.
Campaigners estimate that thousands of high-achieving students, who arrived as children in the UK and have been through primary, secondary and sixth form education in the country, discover at the last moment that they are unable to go to university.
Despite getting excellent results at A-level and being offered places at the best universities, when they apply for student loans they find they do not qualify because of their immigration status, and without the loan cannot take up their university offer.
The problem is evident in London where the population is diverse and educational achievement high, particularly among those from disadvantaged communities. However, the charity Just for Kids Law says the issue affects young people across the country.
The new campaign, called Young, Gifted and Blocked, comes at a time of intense debate about access to higher education. The government wants universities to extend access and increase diversity among home students; at the same time it is planning to introduce major new restrictions on international students hoping to study in the UK.
The move is based on claims that many international students break the terms of their visa and stay on in the UK after their studies are finished. According to a report in the Times on Thursday, however, a study has estimated that only 1% of international students fail to leave after their course ends.
The Home Office said the contents of the report were inaccurate. “There is no secret report and we do not recognise the 1% figure,” a spokesperson said. “We are continuing to analyse the data collected since exit checks were introduced to ensure that it is statistically robust.”
Meanwhile, the Young, Gifted and Blocked campaign is being launched with avideo and a letter – signed by more than 100 of those caught in educational limbo – which is being sent to vice-chancellors of the capital’s leading universities, urging them to create scholarships and bursaries to fund these students’ studies.
The letter reads: “We are writing to ask you to help long-standing migrants like us continue our studies. By doing so, you will also be helping your university ensure it is able to recruit talented and diverse young people, who are often under represented in further education.
“Many of us come from families where we would be the first members to go to university; all of us believe passionately in the importance of obtaining a degree, and are keen to have the opportunity to pursue our educational and career ambitions.”
Among the signatories are would-be doctors, scientists, and lawyers. Agnes Harding from Dagenham, east London, is also a signatory. She wants to become the first black British astronaut. The 18-year-old had hoped to study physics at Manchester University – she got three As at A-level and received offers from four Russell Group universities – but she was unable to go because she was not entitled to a student loan.
She was born in Gambia and arrived in the UK when she was four with her mother. She has been living here ever since. “I was not really aware of my immigration status before this,” Hardin said.
“I’ve always seen myself as British. I spent four years in Gambia – I don’t remember anything from there. This has been my entire life, my home. Being told I’m different was horrible. It redefined what I thought of myself.”
Just for Kids Law founder and director, Shauneen Lambe, said the charity had been contacted by more than 600 young people who, having done well at school, wanted to take up hard-won university places but found their way blocked.
“They have been to school here and lived in the UK most of their lives. Yet, when it comes to going to university, they are treated as overseas students - they cannot get a student loan, and can be charged international fees by universities, which are often two or three times the £9,000 a year paid by other students.
“There are very few other funding options available to young people in this situation. We don’t think that, as a country, we can afford to let so much talent and ambition go to waste.”
The issue was at the centre of a supreme court hearing last year which resulted in new guidelines, but campaigners say many young people from a migrant background are still missing out. To qualify for a government loan, students from migrant backgrounds must be able to prove that they have lived in the UK for at least half their life and that they have had “lawful ordinary residence” for a minimum of three years.
The only way to become “lawfully ordinarily resident” is by being granted limited or indefinite leave to remain by the Home Office, which can be a long and complicated process. After that, they face a three-year wait before being eligible for a student loan and before automatically qualifying for home student fees. Many young people from migrant backgrounds and their families do not realise until it is too late.
King’s College London has already established two sanctuary scholarshipsoffering full tuition fee support and help with living costs to assist students who have sought sanctuary in the UK. Arkam Babar, 20, who has born in Pakistan, has just started a geography degree thanks to the scholarship and is hoping other universities will make similar funding available to others.
“Before I was awarded the scholarship by King’s College London, I had little hope of being able to study, which was devastating as my family has always placed a strong emphasis on education,” he said.
“The King’s scholarship has transformed my situation. I only hope that more young people get the chance that I have been given to pursue their educational dreams.”