Would you pay tens of thousands of pounds for an incomplete degree? The UK government wants you to

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The UK is a very popular destination for overseas students. Despite the high cost of living, it’s a stable, safe and secure country with a variety of well renowned colleges and universities with high teaching standards. The UK comes only second to the USA for the number of international students it receives. International  students choose the UK because of its “reputation for having a quality higher education system” and the fact that UK based degrees are recognised worldwide, with students reiterating this as they report being satisfied with the quality of the HE system and their experiences according to a spokesperson for the organisation University UK.

Whilst the UK offers a high standard of globally renowned education, studying in the UK also comes with high fees. EU students pay the same tuition fees as UK based (national) students but non-EU international students fall into a different bracket. On average, an international student at undergraduate level will have to pay £11,987 per year to study in the UK. Certain courses such as medicine can cost four times as much for a non-EU student than those paying home or EU fees, totaling £35,00 a year in comparison to £9,000 at most for UK and home students and on top of this; course fees are not always fixed so they may be subject to changes during the course of your studies (see The Guardian/BBC).

Add on top of the course fees themselves additional costs such as air fare, the cost of purchasing everything you can’t bring over yourself and also considering the difference in currencies and standards of living in terms of relative pricing; it’s a pricey way to study. There are students that are either able to afford to come or be granted a governmental or non-governmental scholarship either in the UK or overseas yet international students are facing increasing visa restrictions.

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Harsh visa restrictions

In addition to high tuition fees, strict immigration regulations have been introduced which further affect current and potential international students. Back in 2012, the two year post-study work visas for graduates was eliminated. Post-graduation you are now permitted to stay for four months depending on your course. To stay longer you would require sponsorship to work or other means to stay in the UK. Now, as part of a government crackdown to cut down abuse of the system (“visa fraud“), further new restrictions affecting international students have been introduced amongst other changes to immigration policy in an attempt to lower the rate of EU and non-EU based immigration to the UK.

New restrictions affecting FE students for example now stipulate that non-EU FE students at UK public colleges can no longer work whilst studying (this was 10 hours a week and full time during holidays) (as of August 2015) and that they must first leave the UK in order to apply for a work visa to live and work in the UK after completing their studies (as of November 2015). In addition to this, one other particular group of students are at a huge disadvantage are HE international STEM students – those studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – who can no longer complete their training (as of July 2015).

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STEM Students – high fees, little training

STEM students are particularly interested in studying in the UK for the high quality of education which was quoted by 51% of students in a recent study (rather than the idea of “UK career prospects”) (see The British Council). According to Educating Beyond Borders, most HE international students choose vocational based qualifications, enrolling for courses which require “practical” skill based training within industries and professions for which they are studying to later work in. Vocational HR courses comprise skills based training required for trades and highly-skilled professions such as engineering and architecture and so such training is an essential part of their education. However, due to work restrictions affecting international students, STEM students cannot undertake this training. Without such crucial training, their studies are essentially incomplete. They don’t acquire the full training and qualifications which they pay tens of thousands of pounds for and which they need to be fully qualified professionals.

Regardless of their reason for choosing the UK as their place of study (whether for future career purposes or not), if students wish to come to the UK and they have funding, they should be able to come and expect to gain the full qualifications which they are paying or being paid to earn – subject only to their own personal ability to follow the course and adequately meet course requirements. Adding to that, students and graduates invest a significant amount of time, money and skills into the UK and its education system. They should be allowed to live and work in the UK. It is grossly unfair to charge students such astronomical fees for incomplete training and on top of that to limit so strictly their ability to stay in the UK.

These policies are simply part of a wider “attack” on international students who – as another “source” of migration figures for the government – represent another “target” for its immigration campaign. The government is desperately trying to cut the number of people coming to the UK at all costs – regardless of the affect on the UK culturally, academically, socially, professionally, politically and economically and regardless of the UK’s moral and ethical responsibilities. The UK government has figures it wants to cut without further deeper consideration – down to 100,000 to be precise. Yet the fact is that even the UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has himself “warned” David Cameron about the affect that a decrease in the number of overseas students numbers “risks jeopardising Britain’s reputation abroad” and – as a government insider told Channel 4 News – of some STEM departments being closed down at certain universities due to a lack of economic viability without the income generated from overseas students.

Philip Hammond has therefore called for international student figures to be left out of migration figures as it causes “immense damage”. I’d add that whilst this is a clear yes – we must do this – the wider problem is the government and their immigration policy itself which is devoid of common sense and mercy. The UK government’s immigration policy is what is what is doingimmense damageto Britain as a whole in many different ways. That’s another long story for another day but let’s just think briefly about its treatment of EU migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The UK has a fantastic reputation for both tolerance and multiculturalism and for its high standard of education. We must remove students from such net migration figures but we must also fight to change overall migration policies and attitudes – within and outside of politics.

Campaigning

So, what can we do in practical terms to help STEM and other overseas students?

Education is freedom; it’s empowerment, it’s independence, it’s people’s future. Education is vital – it’s a human right and should be open to everyone regardless of nationality, background or economic status. Astronomical university fees is another big issue (as is harsh immigration controls) but whilst the campaign is rolling: let’s fight to get these students what they’ve paid for. It’s their right. Speak out and get signing!

Salam!

Sources and information:

ICEF Monitor (2015) UK Confirms Elimination of Work Rights for Non-EU Students in Higher Education

Study London (2016) Working in London and The UK

The British Council (2015) UK Education Top Attraction for International STEM Students

The Complete University Guide

Top Universities (2015) How Much Does It Cost to Study in the UK?

UK Council for International Student Affairs (UK CISA)

Universities UK

Image credits:

FreeImages.com/Aaron Murphy

FreeImages.com/Holger Dieterich

FreeImages.com/Gozde Otman

FreeImages.com/Dan MacDonald

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21-36 Million Slaves in the “Modern” World – Did You Know about Them?

This January it’s Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness and Protection Month. Human trafficking is modern day slavery and is something that most of us have heard about. In 2014 The Global Slavery Index estimated that there are 21-36 million people worldwide living in slavery. This is in spite of human rights legislation – The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which comes under The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the criminalisation of human trafficking in 90% of countries worldwide (UNODC, 2014). Human trafficking is a widespread severe problem which moves within and across regions nationally and internationally:

The crime of trafficking in persons affects virtually every country in every region of the world. Between 2010 and 2012, victims with 152 different citizenships were identified in 124 countries across the globe (UNODC, 2014).

So, who are these people? How old are they? What work are they forced into and by whom? Well here’s the lowdown on the issue of modern slavery with some key facts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) latest report (2014). Of course though, due to its nature we can’t know the real number and nature for sure of people living in this hell…

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  1. 49% of human trafficking victims are women (21% are girls, 18% are men and 12% are boys) (2011) but the number of women being trafficked is decreasing. 
  2. The number of detected child victims is increasing1 in 3 victims of human trafficking is a child. If you break that down by gender – 2 out of 3 child victims are girls.
  3. A greater number of male victims are being detected.
  4. Forms of exploitation include: sexual exploitation, forced labour, servitude and “slavery like” work and organ removal.
  5. Most victims are victims of sexual exploitation (mostly women) but other forms are increasing.
  6. Forced labour accounted for 40% of trafficking victims between 2010-2012 and is increasing. Forced labour includes: domestic work, textile production, cleaning and domestic work, catering and working in restaurants, construction, manufacturing and textile production.
  7. “Mixed exploitation” other than just sexual exploitation or forced labour includes for the purpose of: committing crime, begging, making pornography (including online pornography), benefit fraud, baby selling, illegal adoption, forced marriage, armed combat and for rituals.
  8. Females are mostly exploited for sexual purposes (79%), whilst for males it’s forced labour (83%) (2010-12).
  9. Children for example are used as child soldiers and beggars. Child trafficking is common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Children are being used as soldiers in Central and West Africa.
  10. In the Middle East and North Africa nearly all victims detected are adults.
  11. 1/3 victims is exploited in their own country of citizenship.
  12. In the Americas, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific forced labour is the most common reason behind human trafficking.
  13. In Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Western and Central Europe most victims are exploited for sexual purposes.
  14. Transnational trafficking makes up almost 25% of all trafficking flows and isn’t as common as domestic or intraregional trafficking.
  15. When traffickers traffic people abroad – they are usually their own fellow citizens.
  16. 72% of convicted traffickers are men. 
  17. Proportionally, women are convicted for trafficking more than most other crimes.

You hear about it in the news: prostitution in Europe, domestic servants in the Middle East, forced labour in Asia but there are many complex patterns and changes in trends. We need to raise awareness and get our voices heard to say “no” to human trafficking and “yes” to change.

Campaigning and awareness raising

So what can we do to get involved with the fight against human trafficking? Here’s a few tips:

  • Raise awareness online – blog, tweet and use hashtags. Free the Slaves have produced Facebook and Twitter cover photos you can download and upload on your social media profiles and are promoting the following hashtags: #freetheslaves #endslavery #humantrafficking
  • Donate to and/or volunteer with relevant NGOs such as Free the Slaves, Stop The Traffik and Polaris Project. You can find a list of other relevant NGOs here
  • Sign the 50 For Freedom Campaign petition
  • Take part in Stop the Traffick’s campaigns and check out their tips
  • Those of you in the USA can email members of Congress.
  • If you’re in the UK write to your local MP and check out APPG
  • If you’re elsewhere – write to local authorities/organisations/MPs
  • Sign one of many petitions available online on Change.org
  • Donate your old phones to Phones4Freedom to help anti-trafficking activists and survivors
  • Check out the other tips available online here
  • Get creative and come up with fundraising and awareness raising events

As always – get noticed, get heard and fight to #endslavery and #freetheslaves! No to #humantrafficking

Salam!

Information Source:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2014) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 

Free the Slaves also have a free factsheet which you can download from their website.

*Images are re-published under a Creative Commons licence

Expat or immigrant? – Immigrant. Why everybody should experience living abroad

Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.” Each and every persons’ life experiences are unique but until you’ve experienced something it can be difficult (if not impossible) to understand. Even though no two experiences are the same, sometimes you have to try and put yourselves in that person’s shoes. In the case of migrants and refugees this can sometimes be difficult yet all the more important.

There’s a lot of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee discourse around at the moment concerning undocumented migrants, the recent refugee crisis and EU migrants. Lots of people form unsavoury opinions without even any direct experience. Well, I’ve been living in Spain now for over a year. I’ve spent time living for certain periods in a few countries. I’m passionate about social justice, human rights, migrants’ rights and about fighting racism and religious discrimination. I want to talk about my experiences here in Spain as a “white” Caucasian, British (EU) Muslim migrant married to a non-EU, North African Muslim who is a migrant himself and what we’ve witnessed in our time here. There are a lot of labels there. Whilst labels can be counterproductive, essentialist, and encourage both discrimination and narrow views on identity, in order to uncover the different layers of discrimination here in Spain, you have to pick out the different markers of identity and socio-cultural-economic “classification”.

Here’s my experiences of being an immigrant in Spain, of what I’ve lived, learnt, heard and witnessed (of course I can’t speak for everyone or overgeneralise):

  1. As a non-national or “non-native”, the factors which distinguish you and lead to the most discrimination are: colour, economic status, religion and nationality (which incorporates culture).
  2. Racism/discrimination can be multi-faceted and you may sit between communities. I found myself affected by what I believe to be mild Islamophobia yet almost no racism based on my culture or nationality. I tried to compare experiences, histories and stereotypes; trying to judge and understand my situation in relation to Moroccans as North-African and Muslim and with non-Muslim “Western European” migrants here in Spain.
  3. A lot of people really don’t know the difference between an economic/social migrant and a refugee or asylum seeker – this is a political tool and drives racism and stereotypes.
  4. Integration is a TWO WAY process – you have to put in to get out. Locals, in the name of humanity and collectivity; welcome others! Build bonds and collective identities – crush stereotypes and misconceptions. Likewise for non-locals, if you don’t want to put in – why are you there? If you’ve got no choice – remember this: it’s a duty/blessing to give something back. In doing so you may counteract unfair, unjust racial, religious and cultural discrimination and stereotypes and open up opportunities, relations and change mentalities.

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Unfortunately, there’s negativity here: Muslim women being physically and verbally abused (“Moor”, “terrorist”), poverty, destitution… I see destitute migrants, drinking away their sorrows, sleeping on mattresses. Yes, this also happens with locals  but with immigrants is unfortunately common. I’ve also experienced for myself being asked in interviews for English teaching positions on a few occasions about my headscarf, knowing that I’m a native English speaker (not just “British”) – which adheres to their “standard” or “ideal English teacher” persona. Some interviewers added that it wasn’t an issue. Some I know were genuinely curious or unperturbed but one lady added: “What’s your religion?” and no, this wasn’t in a post-interview chat. Although I can’t prove anything, it’s not a good feeling. Some employers simply tell other Muslims that they’d have to take their scarves off. On top of this, I’ve also seen a jobless, homeless Moroccan woman (both a mother and wife) asking for help, running from domestic violence and neglect, pregnant with young children and each with full legal residency, being told there’s “nothing they can do”, being sent one from office to the next, till her and her children end up on a boat home. Yet, despite all of this I have also witnessed the kindness of Spanish police in such situations and of Spanish neighbours, colleagues, parents, students and general members of the public. Each country has its own inner issues – here there are economic struggles – but there is a wider socio-cultural issue that is void of economic reasoning: socio-cultural exclusion.

Multiculturalism appears to be non-existent here. There’s no real sense of “collective identity” – not if you’re Muslim or Arab at least from what I can see. Neither does there appear to be a great appreciation of other cultures – besides tucking in to a plate of couscous or other “world-cuisine” and despite all the Arab-Moor history in Spain in what was once known as Al-Andalus. I’ve heard otherwise but it seems rare, even despite the positive safety and peace of many migrants living here to counteract it (I can’t speak for refugees/asylum seekers unfortunately). What I stand by is that you have to put in to get out – especially when living in such societies. Yes, without a doubt, migrants should be welcomed but on the other hand, when you see the mosque closed during Ramadan – that’s a missed opportunity right there. That’s your chance to reach out to impoverished or curious people here. Budgets are stretched at both ends but that shouldn’t hold back local and migrant communities in reaching out to each other. In terms of Spaniards, apart from Latin Americans and “typical Westerners/Europeans” and the odd exception, I’ve so far only really seen locals “socialising” with alcoholic destitute migrants (one being Kenyan) who must be in similar situations to themselves. On the other side of the fence, I’ve seen those which appear to have turned their back on their own cultural norms or have come across as so assimilated they were unrecognisable as North African or Muslim. You don’t have to drop your own cultural values. Regarding religious values, you’d be a hypocrite in doing so. A Muslim doesn’t need to sell alcohol or ham to be accepted. I stand by my words: Spain – like many European countries but unlike the UK in terms of majority in my opinion – has a reputation of being Islamophobic and racist. Indeed, there are issues regarding colour, nationality/”race”/culture and Islam but not as much as I’d envisaged. There is hope but things do need to change.

Helping hand shakes another in an agreement

It’s through witnessing, feeling and living all these moments that you see and feel what others go through. I’ve always said to my husband: “Racists should go abroad and see it’s not easy”, “You can’t hate people you’ve met and really know – people need to travel”. Indeed, some of the friendliest Spanish folk I’ve met here are elderly Spaniards who used to live in Morocco. They knew it on a personal level – they’d grown up there, they’d made Moroccan friends. So, if you’re up for an adventure, go abroad and see what life is like for others. Go “native” – don’t go “expat” or “tourist” in your bubble of sun soaked fellow countrymen or tourists. Put yourself out there. If you’re staying put, reach out to the migrant and refugee community. It’s not easy for them. Build bridges. We’re all human. A smile can and does go a long way. If you’re living abroad, reach out to the local community!

Salam!

Image credits:

Images are re-published under a Creative Commons licence

Interfaith solidarity is not about stripping Muslim women of their identity

#Muslim, #British, #hijabi and proud. Straight to the point on what interfaith is and isn’t.

*Feature image: shared under a Creative Commons licence

exiledheroine

Today, more than ever, anti-Islamic rhetoric has been widely accepted in the media and the result of this rhetoric has been violence and hatred against Muslims, primarily Muslim women who wear the hijab. The hijab, first and foremost, is a representation of Muslim identity. Many Muslim women in America have reported physical assaults and verbal abuse as a result of the popular Islamic bigotry expressed in the media. It is challenging for us Muslim women to come up on top and show our strength against these powerful figures who continue to belittle us, and it is articles like As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity that was recently published in The Washington Post that is backpedaling the progress Muslim women have been trying to make over the course of these troubling times.

There are many problematic assertions Asra Q…

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