Thursday, May 13News For London

Protesting overseas student fears deportation

International students attending British universities are being put off from taking part in protests due to fears they may be deported. Samiksha Pattanaik reports. Sub-editor: Sohini Sinha

Photo Credit: Justice4Sanaz

Despite the plethora of issues concerning international students, they have to think twice before raising their voice.

The fear of deportation, as pointed out recently in a Guardian article by an international student, often puts off overseas students from political campaigning or participating in protests.

Sanaz Raji has a sword of deportation hanging over  her head because of a complaint she made about the quality of supervision at her university while studying for a PhD. This will mean she would no longer be able to pursue her case against her university.

Iranian born and a United States resident, Sanaz Raji, has been leading a campaign to allow her to continue with her PhD and alleges that  she was assigned a supervisor who she feels did not have the requisite knowledge in her field.

Student complaints made against universities are on the increase. Figures reveal that more than 2,000 students submitted official objections in 2012 – up by a quarter in just 12 months and a four-fold rise in the last seven years.

However what makes Sanaz’s campaign notable was the fact she alleges the university concerned rubbished her complaints and that they acted in a racist way towards her.  International students can feel particularly reluctant to complain about university procedures as they fear their university may request their deportation.

“My supervisors did not give me adequate supervision I think because I had made it very well known that I wasn’t happy with the kind of supervision I was receiving,” she says.

Following this, one day her scholarship was unexpectedly revoked by the department due to what they alleged was “insufficient academic progress”.

“In the course of my second year, my progress was not considered an issue as such. In my supervision notes no one raised any issues. However if there were issues with my progress then it should have been raised earlier or consistently but that was never the case,” she says emphatically.

She organises demonstrations and speaks passionately about the concerns of non-EU international and BME students through her blog and at relevant events. Her campaign has encouraged multiple non-EU international students to come forward to vent their grievances against the austere measures prevailing in the British Universities.

Through a Freedom of Information request she accessed a number of emails exchanged by  University staff about her to back her allegations with evidence. She appealed through the university’s internal procedures, who eventually dismissed her allegations.

“In April 2013, once I received a decision, I went public and put together a petition, which received over a thousand signatures. I contacted the media, student groups and as many people as I could.”

Despite facing the limitations of being an international student, she started the campaign ‘Justice4Sanaz’ to bring justice to her on-going legal dispute.

“No one ends up becoming an activist overnight. It has to be some sort of an issue or cause that they have felt dearly or have struggled with or seen other individuals struggling with,” says Sanaz Raji.

However, Sanaz’s case is not an isolated event. The findings in the NUS report entitled ‘Race for Equality’ revealed that 1 in 6 Black students have experienced racism in their current institution, and one third do not trust their institution to properly handle complaints.


Photo Credit: Justice4sanaz
Photo Credit: Justice4sanaz

She gives the example of a fellow PhD scholar from Thailand, who was declared unfit for continuing with his degree due to his English language difficulties after nine months of enrolling in the course.

“By this time, they have already grabbed his money, and wasted his time, while the department was well aware of his English language difficulties from the very beginning.”

After she took his case to the local MP, she says her colleague informed her that the university has paid his tuition fees back.

UK’s economy benefits significantly from International students. A recent study by Universities UK showed international students’ expenditure on fees and accommodation amounted to £4.4 billion in 2011–12;  £3.8 billion came from non-EU students alone.

“Once here, paying tens of thousands in fees, international students are treated like criminals,” writes Gordon Malony, President NUS Scotland in a blog of Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Sanaz has campaigned against the racist and xenophobic structures within British academic institutions.

Sanaz’s struggle was not easy, and she is grateful for the support that has helped her keep up her battle, Justice4Sanaz.

“I am happy because now people are talking about international non-EU students. When I began this two years ago, no one was aware about their concerns.”

Now, she is preparing for her upcoming tour which will see her visiting some of the reputed British Universities to interact with students and also collect some funds to aid her financially to stay here and fight her case.

“I really hope that with the tour I can have more of a discussion about the academic institutional complex and how it affects non-EU students, especially students of colour using my case as an example.”

“I can do this only with the support of other people. As long as we are working together we can make a very good headway and change,” she says with hope and commitment in her voice.

For more contact:  Justice4Sanaz Campaign