Imagine being told that everything you thought you knew as truth was an absolute lie. Imagine starting a journey with your peer group and then unexpectedly being ripped away from the same path. Imagine feeling as if no one understands your pain, your frustration, your anger. Imagine feeling like as if you’re alone in a room full of so many people, I mean physically present, but mentally a million miles away with your thoughts running at a thousand miles an hour. A change in the law five years ago meant that thousands of ambitious young people were placed in the situation described above.
The legal gap
The young people Let Us Learn is campaigning for have lived in the UK almost all their lives. They were brought to the UK as young children with their parents. The first time many of them experience any difficulties over their immigration status is when they are applying for university and find that they fail the residence requirement given by Regulation 4(a) of the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011. Once they have applied for and received Limited Leave to Remain, they need to live in the UK for three years with this status in order to qualify for student finance. So they are effectively barred from the UK education system for three years through no fault of their own.
Before 1997, the settlement criterion merely required someone to be ordinarily resident in the UK for three years to qualify for student support. Ordinarily resident was defined by the House of Lords in Shah as “a man’s abode in a particular place or country which he has adopted voluntarily and for settled purposes as part of the regular order of his life for the time being, whether of short or of long duration”. The Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1997 changed this so that one needed to have Indefinite Leave to Remain to be classed as settled for the purpose of paying home university fees.
The requirement of Indefinite Leave to Remain meant a young person would need to wait either six or ten years to qualify for Student Finance, depending on whether their leave to remain was granted before 9 July 2012. This onerous requirement effectively barred access to the higher education system for a significant proportion of young people. Let Us Learn intervened in the Tigere case which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court concluded that this length of time could not be justified in terms of the economy and was discriminatory contrary to Article 14 ECHR (prohibition on discrimination) read alongside Article 2 Protocol 1 ECHR (right to education).
“Any short term savings to the public purse by denying these students finance, by way of loans, not grants, are just that, as most of them will eventually qualify for loans, and in the meantime the benefit their enhanced qualifications will bring to the exchequer and the economy have been lost.” – Lady Hale in Tigere.
However, the Court decided that in line with current immigration rules for other categories of migrant, a three-year residency requirement would stay in place. Therefore the Regulations still have the effect of barring a proportion of the population who thought they were in the same position as their peers from going to university like their peers do.
Since Tigere came out, Parliament has added another barrier to young people accessing Student Support: on 6th June 2016 the Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 came into force. This piece of legislation requires those under 18 to have lived in the UK for 7 years, and those 18 or over to have lived in the UK for half their life or 20 years. This onerous requirement is on top of the three years’ lawful residence in the UK and ongoing habitual residence tests which still applied after Tigere. This new test in practice bars many young people from higher education whose peers can access it – peers who are just like them in all matters except an immigration status which they were always unaware of until it mattered.
Start of the Let Us Learn Campaign
Chrisann Jarrett, a talented, driven teenager, who discovered in 2013 that despite living in the UK since the age of eight, universities as well as government bodies still considered her to be a foreigner. Although able to work and travel, it soon became apparent that she would be considered an international student simply because of her immigration status. Thus, meaning an automatic increase in tuition fees with no help from Student Finance. With Just for Kids Law advocating on behalf of Chrisann, she was offered a scholarship to attend LSE because of the rarity of her case. Little did anyone know that thousands of people like Chrisann faced the same barriers. Chrisann’s story received media attention, and after featuring in her local newspaper, the, young people soon started flooding to Just for Kids Law for help with their situation.
Who are Let Us Learn?
As the campaign grew over the years, it was very clear that aspirational, dedicated and ambitious young people were being excluded from moving forward with their lives. In a society where education is most valuable, a key to becoming a success, it seemed unfair that this very opportunity isolated a specific group. Emmanuel for example, arrived in the UK from Ghana at age 9. Extremely motivated, academically brilliant and with an incredibly bright future, yet faced with a hurdle that could have potentially destroyed his self worth, self esteem and possibly his future. Nevertheless, he overcame every obstacle in his way. Not only was he able to secure a scholarship to get into Imperial College, he was able to raise thousands of money for his living cost over the three years of his course through crowdfunding and raising awareness of the issue. His Story on BBC London contributed to his successful fundraising.
Emmanuel’s life was transformed because of Let Us Learn. Likewise, the campaign has helped many young people facing the same hurdle. In June 2015, Let Us Learn helped change the law that WAS leaving hundreds of young migrants unable to obtain Student Finance, when Let us Learn, via Just for Kids Law, intervened in the Tigere case, and presented evidence of the devastating impact the restrictions were having on many of its young campaigners. Thirty of them attended the court to hear the case and show the judges just how passionately they felt about their right to education. Despite the success at the Supreme Court however, many are still unable to become eligible for Student Finance after receiving their status.
Let Us Learn, is a youth led movement, campaigning for equal access for all. A campaign that promotes youth empowerment creates change, support one another and build up future leaders. http://www.justforkidslaw.org/let-us-learn
By Dami Makinde and Paul Erdunast, writing in a personal capacity