Ill Nigerian PhD student who complained faces losing UK visa

Home Office notification of Sue Agazie highlights ‘weaponisation of immigration status’ by universities when students complain, say critics

May 15, 2024
Source: Sue Agazie: Unis Resist Border Controls

Supporters of a Nigerian PhD student facing potential deportation after her doctoral studies were halted by illness and a breakdown in relations with her supervisor have claimed her plight highlights the precarity of international students who complain about their course.

Sue Agazie, a copywriter from Lagos, moved to the UK in January 2023 to begin a PhD in marketing at Newcastle University Business School on the understanding, she claimed, that she was likely to receive a full scholarship for her studies or would gain enough part-time academic work to cover her living costs.

However, funding and paid work did not materialise in the way suggested, said Ms Agazie, who added that she has run up huge debts to finance her PhD.

Amid a breakdown in relations with her primary supervisor over her money troubles, Ms Agazie was then diagnosed with kidney failure in September 2023.

With a formal complaint launched against Newcastle and her supervisor over allegedly misleading her over funding, Ms Agazie has now been informed that Newcastle has contacted the Home Office over her absence from supervisions – a move that could see her visa revoked.

That would mean her husband and young child, who travelled with Ms Agazie to north-east England, would also be forced to leave the country.

Her case is now being championed by Unis Resist Border Controls, a campaign group that raises awareness of how migrant university staff have been affected by the UK’s hostile environment policies. More than 250 people – including many PhD students and scholars – have signed a petition urging the Home Office to stop any visa curtailment.

Its spokeswoman Sanaz Raji, a visiting researcher at Northumbria University, said the notification of the Home Office was an example of the “weaponisation of her immigration status” in a disputes process.

In a statement, Newcastle said “complaints are investigated following the university’s standard procedures”. “Where a complaint has been made by a postgraduate student about their supervisor, our normal practice would be to investigate the matter and explore arrangements for an alternative supervisor if that becomes necessary,” it continued.

“We can’t discuss individual cases, but we offer a range of support to postgraduate students including advice on visa issues, hardship funding, and support to have a break in study where there is an illness or other circumstances.”

Under Home Office rules, higher education institutions must notify authorities if students fail to attend class or discontinue their course, although Ms Agazie said she intends to finish her studies.

The lack of support for a “critically ill” student also indicated how “universities instrumentalise migrant students from the Global South as sources of income that they can afterwards dispose of”, said Ms Raji in a reference to the multimillion-pound revenues received by universities from international postgraduates.

According to official statistics, Nigeria is the UK’s third largest source of international students behind China and India with about 44,000 studying in 2021-22, mostly at postgraduate level.

According to Ms Raji, Ms Agazie was led to believe that many PhD students in her situation had found plentiful paid work and obtained scholarships, but these apparent success stories did not stand up once they were investigated.

With the threat of visa revocation looming, students would, however, be reluctant to complain if things go wrong, said Ms Agazie. “Forcing an international student into immigration problems while a complaint is under way…is basically telling international students not to complain,” she said.

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Reader's comments (5)

HE providers and employers need to stop over promising as they can negatively impact the lives of students, staff and their families as seen in this disgraceful situation.
The Competition and Markets authority needs to look into what universities are promising students. They clamped down on things like university misrepresentation over global and other rankings. Maybe they can look into misrepresentation over work and scholarship opportunities for PGRs looking to pursue a PhD? A sad state of affairs for the student concerned.
Lack of competence by the university professionals. A student has paid thousands for the course only to realise that the quality promised by university in not at all there. On top of that home office threats. What a disgusting way to profit from students. Basically a scandal The UK is a powerhouse of government scandals. Fleece holds, immigration, NhS, Education, Police etc everywhere there's corruption! Pathetic.
Every PhD student is a potential society beneficiary. Why can't the society provide all required support for them especially those with special needs. I am an advocate of persons with disabilities
This is not new, the UK has been doing this for long. I remember facing situation that is quite similar to that in 2010. My student visa was renew and I was granted only 10 days with an outstanding paper to write in order to complete my course of study. It is obvious it is the income that matters to UK, not how well the students experience are.