Universities should be made to take out compulsory insurance agreements when accepting international students from politically unstable countries, the chair of the Commons education committee has said.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon last night urged the Government to consider imposing new safeguards for students, amid fears that more than 100 face deportation because their funding has been pulled by a foreign government.
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that a bursary scheme funded by a regional agency in Nigeria has folded, with dozens of students facing having to return home before Christmas.
The agency’s decision to withdraw the funding without their knowledge has left some students saddled with debts of up to £20,000.
A number of students, who are some of the Nigeria’s brightest undergraduates, have been told that they will not receive their degree certification – even though many of them completed their courses in the last academic year.
This newspaper has spoken to a number of students affected, who said they have been told they could be deported as early as 20 October.
The Nigerian High Commission confirmed that 152 students had been caught up in the scandal when approached for comment, adding that the agency had been left with a “draught of funding” due to a slump in the country’s oil revenues.
Meanwhile, universities including Leeds, Sussex and Essex are alleged to have told students they cannot graduate and their visas will not be renewed.
But other universities, including Sunderland and Swansea, have allowed students affected to graduate – leading to accusations that some institutions are attempting to use the students’ debts like a “ransom”.
Last night Mr Halfon described the behaviour of the offending universities as “outrageous”, adding that the Government should intervene to help those with no financial support.
“Whilst some universities have done the right thing, it appears outrageous and unacceptable from those who won’t help these students in complete distress, and are holding a loan over the heads like a ransom,” he added.
“Universities should be using their bursaries and other funds to support these students, and I hope that the Government will be able to step in to find a solution.
“If universities are going to take money from governments overseas, known to be in difficult political circumstances, we should look at introducing compulsory insurance agreements to ensure this does not happen again.”
However, the Department for Education declined to comment on the issue, stating that it was a matter for individual universities.
The universities of Leeds and Essex said they “sympathised” with the students affected but declined to say whether their visas would be revoked. They added that they were working closely with the Nigerian High Commission to resolve the dispute.
The University of Sussex claimed it had allowed one student to graduate, but declined to comment on whether their transcript had been withheld. It added that it had been providing “some financial assistance for living costs in cases of particular hardship.”
The Nigerian High Commission said in a statement that additional funding had now been approved for 87 students, but provided no details of when this would be paid. Others who have chosen to remain in the UK have done so at their own “volition”, it added.