The University has said that it will be deferring fees “where possible” for Syrian students that are struggling financially, but it will not waive fees altogether despite a petition of almost 300 signatures.
Syrians protest Assad’s regime in Times Square, NYC last March. Photo: Flickr / asterix611.
Pro-vice-chancellor Prof. Nigel Norris met with representatives of the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) and Syrian students to discuss the matter last Friday (22/3). The students have been assured that they will not be automatically expelled if they are unable to pay.
A statement from the University said: “All cases will be looked at individually and fee deferrals agreed where possible. A member of staff from the Dean of Students’ office is meeting each of the affected students individually and discussing appropriate options and support with them.”
Astrid Simonson, international officer for the UUEAS, is behind the petition in support of waiving fees. She explained that it was a response to vice-chancellor Prof. Edward Acton’s claims that he is “very sensitive to the fact the institution hasn’t before simply waived fees,” using examples of students from Iraq and Gaza. He expressed this sentiment both at Union Council in February, and in an interview with Concrete.
Simonsen explained: “I think Acton and the University are right to want to think very carefully about giving fee waivers to a group of students, but I did not buy his argument. For one thing, the situation in Syria is very unique in terms of severity, the degree of instability, international sanctions etc … I think you could very well argue that if the Syrian students are given fee waivers, then Iraqi students should have received that as well.
“I don’t want to take a definite stance on that, but even if that is the case, I would find it very sad and discouraging if we could never change our behaviour, simply because we also did the wrong thing in the past. Change for the better should not be shied away from simply because it is change.”
She said that the response from students regarding the campaign had been extremely positive. “One of the reasons I decided to start the petition was because Edward Acton had said that he thought other students would not be happy about them giving fee waivers to one group. I thought he was wrong about that and that UEA students had more solidarity than he gave us credit for. And I was proven completely right in that, which was great. I probably collected at least 200 of the signatures personally, and I only talked to maybe five people who said no to signing it.”
Foundation law and humanities student Karim Hadaya, from Damascus, stressed the importance of helping the students. He explained that without help, “students would be forced to drop out of the University and either go back to Syria where there is no education – people can’t study under the sound of gunshots and rockets blasts – or go back to the other country they came from for shelter, where there is a chance they might need to retake their whole degree, or they won’t be able to afford studying there … War and destruction have taken the best out of the Syrian citizens and offering some help to the Syrian students won’t harm anyone.”
He expressed reservations about simply deferring fees, explaining: “People, especially Syrians, won’t usually tell a stranger of their financial hardships. [Deferring fees] is just like postponing the death sentence for an extra couple of years. Talking as a student first and as a Syrian citizen second, from experience, giving the waivers would help the students get back on their feet, focus on obtaining their degrees, and help build the name of UEA as well.
“I feel honored to be one of the students of UEA after I saw the commitment and solidarity people have shown for the petition. I have seen support on Facebook, around the campus and even between members in small groups and that showed me that someone actually cares and is ready to stand and do something to change the status quo.”
Since Syria’s higher education ministry ceased funding students abroad, many have found themselves unable to pay tuition fees, and consequently may face deportation. Business secretary Vince Cable and Universities minister David Willetts wrote to Universities UK on 4 March urging vice-chancellors across the country to help. Many other universities have also committed to deferring fees, including Newcastle, Edinburgh and Salford.
There are currently seven Syrian students at UEA and UEA London, with more studying foundation courses at INTO.