Sussex university students warned they may not graduate if fees remain unpaid

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Hundreds of students at the University of Sussex have been warned they may be unable to graduate or re-register for the next academic year if they fail to pay outstanding debts.

Those affected include students from Nigeria and Iran who have been struggling to pay their fees after the value of their currencies crashed. Other international students, as well as UK students, are also among those in debt.

The university said that no students would be removed from their courses due to unpaid debts. It also reassured students they would not be removed from university accommodation this academic year due to debt.

The developments at Sussex emerged after Nigerian students at Teesside University described last week how they were thrown off their course and ordered to leave the UK when they fell behind on payments.

The university withdrew students who missed their fee instalments and informed the Home Office after some students’ savings were wiped out when the value of Nigeria’s currency crashed.

The university said it had “no choice” as failure to pay was a breach of visa sponsorship rules. It said it had made every effort to help the affected students, including bespoke payment plans.

One unnamed Nigerian student at Sussex, who has outstanding debts, said: “We have no intention of not paying, we’re willing to meet our obligations, but we’re pleading for the university to grant us some time.

“Since the exchange rate tripled, my monthly income of £800 is barely enough to cover the £182 weekly accommodation, leaving me struggling to survive as a student in Brighton.”

The University of Sussex students’ union said an earlier email from the university said debts must be cleared by the end of May and warned affected students the university might otherwise have to take action to “withdraw” them from the university.

Some students also had IT access withdrawn, but in a subsequent letter to students struggling to pay their debts, the university reassured them this would not happen again in this academic cycle.

The letter, from Prof Kate O’Riordan, a pro-vice-chancellor at the university, said: “Students expecting to graduate in July 2024 or January 2025 will need to settle tuition fee debt before graduating. Students who are expecting to return in the next academic year will not be able to re-register with outstanding tuition fee debt.

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“Student debt is an issue that all universities face, and the university is being as flexible as possible, offering wellbeing and other support to students, and signposting the available financial support. Any students who are still in debt will receive another email next week with more information about the next steps.”

O’Riordan said the current level of unpaid fees was at least five times bigger than the university has previously seen and she said the problem was affecting other institutions in the UK.

She said: “What we are calling the cost of living crisis for home students and a kind of global financial crisis in other countries is coming together at the same time in a way that has not been seen before.”

Riko Kunisue, international students’ officer at Sussex students’ union, said: “Students are under a tremendous amount of fear and stress at this moment, with many juggling assessments, multiple jobs, and care responsibilities. The university must take steps to reduce financial pressures for all students – especially international students.”


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