International students in the UK say they are being forced into paying their university fees despite having no income due to a lack of part-time jobs.
Students who spoke to The National on Monday said they were feeling increasingly desperate after England and other parts of the UK went into lockdown again at the end of 2020.
Many are now turning to food banks to survive because of soaring unemployment and limited financial support.
A joint survey of 124 international students by the Migrants’ Rights Network and Unis Resist Border Controls found that half of those polled said they were destitute or at risk of becoming so.
Indian student Mohammed Ibrahim, who studies at the University of East London, relies on weekly food parcels provided by Newham Community Project to survive.
He said he has no income and can’t rely on his family to provide financial support – and he still owes £7,000 for his course fees.
“I am scared here. They are pressuring us, torturing us to pay the fees,” the 24-year-old said. “They send letters saying if you can’t pay the fees in a time period they will exclude us. They have mailed us so many times.”
Ajmal Rayaroth, who studies at Ulster University London, said he earned about £15 for six hours’ work as a Deliveroo bike rider. “We get nothing from the government,” he said.
Most universities did not reopen after the Christmas break because of lockdown.
Classes are being conducted online with the exception of a handful of courses that require practical teaching, such as medicine.
The government said online teaching should be of a high standard but universities have not been told to lower course fees, angering students who feel they are not receiving value for money.
Universities UK, which represents the sector, said: “Universities, who recognise the financial pressures the pandemic has placed on students, are providing increased financial support and ensuring continued well-being support as a result.”
Sanaz Raji, of Unis Resist Border Controls, said the plight of international students in the UK was a “big problem” and that those living in the UK on temporary visas could not receive welfare payments.
Newham Community Project said it was currently helping international students from about 20 universities.
Elyas Ismail, the organiser, said international students were on the brink of poverty.
“Students are saying never in a million years did they think there would be no empathy or sympathy in England. They are completely left on their own,” he said.