AFRIDAC Advocacy Conference for African International Students in the UK
Date: 25th October 2023
Time: 5pm – 7:15pm
Venue: Committee Room 10, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London
Attendance: 62 (46 in-person and 16 online)
Speakers: Dame Meg Hillier MP, Dr Jenifer Obaseki, and Professor Chris Imafidon
Event Chair: Councilor Susan Fajana-Thomas OBE
Convener: Oladapo Awosokanre
The event started at 5.10pm with the chair, Councilor Susan Fajana-Thomas OBE welcoming the participants to the event and inviting the speakers to the high table.
Dame Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South, and Shoreditch – Keynote Address
Dame Meg Hillier started her address by underlining the importance of the conference mission to address the challenges faced by African international students in the UK. She made references to conversations with African residents living in Hackney South and Shoreditch who experienced underemployment due to their foreign qualifications not being recognized by the British employment system. She commended AFRIDAC for organizing this advocacy conference to address the issues affecting the African student community.
Extended work hours: The MP expressed a keen interest in championing discussions aimed at permitting international students to work more hours to gain valuable experience and reduce underemployment if it does not impact their studies.
Housing: The MP acknowledged ongoing efforts to address landlord fees and review conditions imposed by landlords to create a more hospitable environment for international students, recognizing their substantial contributions to the UK’s economy.
Immigration policies: She noted that resolving issues relating to immigration policies would require engagement at various levels. She encouraged African international students to collaborate with voluntary organizations that could provide aid in areas of need while awaiting the desired changes, emphasizing that change is a gradual process.
Opening remark: Oladapo Awosokanre: AFRIDAC Executive Director
Oladapo welcomed all guests and speakers to the event. He said the last few years have seen an increase in international students coming to the UK, especially from non-EU countries. Data from Higher Education Student Statistics (HESA) for 2021/22 published in February 2023 shows there were 679,970 international students studying at UK higher education institutions. 120,140 of these students were from the EU and 559,825 were non-EU students. After China and India, the country that contributed the largest group of international students is Nigeria (32,945). This is a 130.9 percent increase from 2020-21 (14,270). Does this confirm the ‘Japa’ syndrome by African youth? The term used to describe the act of escaping, fleeing, or disappearing quickly from a situation, often in a hasty and urgent manner.
Even with such huge revenue from international students, the welfare of these students has not been a priority in universities across the UK. Our research revealed that 68% of respondents stated that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to the challenges encountered as international students. Earlier in the year, the UK government announced restrictions on visa issuance to dependents of international students to cut net migration. Ignoring the wider impact on the post graduate student mental wellbeing and family life being separated from family members for 1 to 3 years.
ACD Arts Poem and Drama
There was a poem recitation and drama presentation by ACD Arts. The poem talked about migration and people living in a foreign land. This was dramatized by 3 Black people in a rendition that was vivid and fluid.
AFRIDAC research presentation: Akinola Adewoye
In the 2022–2023 academic session, there were 679,970 international students in the UK, with 68,320 originating from Africa. Among these, Nigerian students comprised 65%, making Nigeria the third-largest source of international students in the UK, following China and India (HESA, 2023). Nigerian students and their dependents contributed approximately £1.9 billion to the UK’s economy, as reported by SBM Intelligence (Kolawole, 2023).
In the last 3 years, there has been a surge of African international students arriving in the UK. AFRIDAC has been approached on many occasions by these students’ seeking advice and advocacy on issues that affects them like racial discrimination, child protection, housing, jobs, volunteering, and internship. Listening to their stories, challenges and ordeals as international students led to the commissioning of the research to gain better insight and baseline data.
To substantiate the issues highlighted by these students we conducted desk research which identified various unique challenges faced by African international students in the UK. The research shows many students had challenges securing a decent accommodation due to stringent rent conditions, financial constraints due to high inflation and cost of living crisis, international education policy changes and restrictions, racism and discrimination within universities, cultural difference, academic pressure, loneliness and isolation, mental health, and stress. Moreover, recent studies emphasize the adverse impact of these challenges on the mental health of African international students (Stoll et al., 2022).
Responses to our survey to African international students across UK universities confirmed the outcome of our desk research.
Survey Period: 05-June-23 – 01-October-23
Number of Participants: 71
- 68% of respondents stated that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to the challenges encountered as international students.
- The 3 most challenging issues for African international students are housing, financial constraints, and discrimination.
- Almost 70% of African international students in the UK desire support in housing, jobs, scholarship, mental health and wellbeing and career development.
- 52% of African international students in the UK desire policy changes to extend work hours from 20 to 30, affordable & accessible accommodation for students and non-discriminatory job opportunities addressing unemployment and underemployment within the community.
- Over 75% of African international students in the UK have experienced challenges paying tuition arising from payment processing delays and increasing and unstable foreign exchange rates in their home countries. A substantial 68% of respondents acknowledged that their mental health had been adversely affected by the challenges they faced as international students in the UK.
The 3 biggest challenges reported by African international students were related to housing, financial constraints, and discrimination.
Nearly 70% of African international students expressed a desire for support in areas such as housing, employment, financial assistance, mental health and well-being, and career development.
Over half (52%) of African international students in the UK sought policy improvements pertaining to extended work hours, affordable and accessible student accommodation, and non-discriminatory job opportunities to address unemployment and underemployment within the community.
Jenifer Obaseki, Legal Director, Obaseki and Co. Solicitors
Jenifer commenced her discussion by shedding light on the immigration policies relating to student visa holders. The policy enumerates the application fee, Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), and maintenance expenses during and post-application, as well as guidelines about working hours and school attendance. She also provided an overview of alternative visa categories that individuals could explore to establish legal residency in the UK.
Jenifer emphasized the importance of student’s diligence in their studies and urged them to be cognizance of the immigration policies relating to their Visa. She shared her experience managing a case involving a student and their school concerning the ownership of intellectual property, highlighting the significance of understanding issues related to copyright and academic materials. She pointed out disparities within the Home Office regarding visa application requirements, with variations between certain regions and Commonwealth countries. For instance, she highlighted differences in English language proficiency tests required of African students compared to those in countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, where such tests are not mandatory.
In conclusion, Jenifer emphasized the need for the African community and its leadership to engage in negotiations for vital improvements that are essential for growth and achieving better representation within the community.
Professor Chris Imafidon: Co-Chair Excellence in Education and Multiple Guinness World Record holder
Professor Chris began his speech with an empowering message for the student community, urging them to find inspiration and resilience in the face of challenges, regardless of how they are perceived. He shared his motivation, having been labelled autistic at an early age, emphasizing that anyone can achieve their aspirations through self-belief.
He highlighted the transformative impact of technology on changing narratives and stressed the inherent strength within Africa and its people, underlining the continent’s youthful population in comparison to other regions. Supported by statistics and figures, he asserted that Africa represents the future, and African youth should prepare themselves to take on the global stage.
Professor Chris advocated for the utilization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) among African youth and encouraged them to remain receptive to learning and innovation at every opportunity. He concluded by noting a significant shift in the status quo, with technology and AI dismantling barriers from the past, including those related to immigration, discrimination, and prejudice. He quoted the U.S. Declaration of Independence, asserting, “We owe the truth that all of us are created equal, and there are no limits to what we can achieve.”
- Why do some countries have certain privileges and African students do not?
Answer: The availability of certain privileges is contingent upon the relationships between those countries and the UK. Therefore, African leaders should engage in negotiations to secure improved conditions for their citizens.
- What happens next after the conference, how do see the impact of the conference on the challenges discussed?
Answer: The conference has initiated an ongoing dialogue with potential stakeholders regarding the various challenges discussed. High-level discussions are currently in progress with the government on some of the highlighted issues, and we maintain a positive outlook on the outcomes. It is important to recognize that effecting change may require time and persistence.
Conference Closing: Janet Murungi, Community African Network Chairperson
Janet closed the event by thanking all participants and speakers. She reiterates the need to organise follow-up events and work with the speakers.
The event also featured photo sessions, interviews, and networking opportunities.
Click the links to read more about the presentations;
AFRIDAC Research Presentation
Presentation by Prof. Chris Imafidon
Presentation by Dr. Jennifer Obaseki
Advocacy Conference Programme