A straight-A student who was told he was not eligible to apply for a student loan has thanked readers of The Independent for their generosity after seeing donations pour in to his crowdfunding campaign.
Emmanuel Opoku, who achieved eight A*s and four As at GCSE and three As at A Level,was offered a place at Imperial College London to study chemistry in 2013. But he was forced to defer his place and feared he would never be able to attend the university after he discovered a recent change in the law meant that, based on his immigration status, he was not eligible to apply for a student loan, despite the fact that he had been a lawful resident in the UK for 11 years.
Mr Opoku, who was born in Ghana, came to the UK with his family when he was nine and was given discretionary leave to remain instead of full citizenship. However, since September 2012 non-UK nationals with discretionary or limited leave to remain have not been eligible for student finance.
Mr Opoku said he was “shocked” to learn that, unlike his peers, he would be obliged to pay the university’s annual tuition fees of £26,500.
The 20-year-old, from Hackney, east London, managed to find a scholarship to cover the bulk of the fees – but was still faced with the prospect of raising £30,000 to cover three years’ worth of accommodation and living costs.
The Independent's coverage on Sunday prompted a flood of donations from readers outraged that Mr Opoku might be denied the opportunity to continue his studies.
“It’s been crazy,” Mr Opoku said. “In the space of two days I raised thousands of pounds. People posted comments saying they had read about me and felt compelled to help. That is largely due to Ian’s [Birrell’s] article.”
The figure continued to climb this week and as of Friday afternoon stands at over £12,200. Mr Opoku has raised enough money to fund his first year at university but hundreds of young people in the UK are not so fortunate.
The aspiring scientist has been working with the charity Just for Kids Law to raise awareness of the issue and plans to pressure the government to change legislation.
“It’s a terrifying position to be in, being told you can’t carry on. I was a legal resident but I was being treated the same as people who had just set foot in the country,” Mr Opoku said.
“You get told throughout school to work hard and it will all pay off. I did everything I was told and then I found out I couldn’t go to university. It felt like a dead end – there was nothing to do, nowhere to go. I felt I had no power at the time, but I feel really empowered now.”
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