‘It feels unjust’: Sheffield medical student working on Covid wards pays thousands in international fees

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The father of a Sheffield medical student has called for changes to be made to the international student fees system as his daughter pays tens of thousands each year in spite of being a permenant UK resident who will go on to work for the NHS.

Khuzemah Cader moved with his daughter Zahra from Hong Kong to Sheffield when she was accepted into Sheffield University’s medical school to train as a doctor in 2018.

The family are permanent residents of the UK, and British citizen Zahra intends to stay in the UK to work as a doctor for the NHS upon graduation.

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During the pandemic she has, like many other medical students, been helping in hospitals and putting herself in danger to do vital frontline work on Covid wards.

Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where some of the medical school is based. Picture Scott MerryleesSheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where some of the medical school is based. Picture Scott Merrylees
Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where some of the medical school is based. Picture Scott Merrylees

In spite of this, she still faces fees of close to £40,000 per year due to the way student fees are decided, and is unable to access any kind of student loan or grant.

Mr Cader, of S10, explained: "Despite being a British citizen, she is being charged international fees since fees are based on the three year residency rule which states that home fees can only be applicable to students who have been ‘normally resident’ in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of the course.

"She has been attending clinical placements which have involved rotations in respiratory wards last year and therefore exposed herself to Covid dangers last year before being recently vaccinated.

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"She has been very dedicated in her studies and clinical placements. After graduating she plans to continue working in the NHS.

"Zahra enthusiastically takes part in her medical training, fully aware and happily willing to take the risks involved in the time of Covid.

"However, as a parent, I feel there is something inherently wrong with a system where she, as a British citizen and resident, is charged eye-watering fees of £37,750 per year to do this, without recourse to any grants or loans.

"I understand that full international fees might be charged for students who will leave the UK after graduation. However, to charge these fees for full UK citizens and residents in the frontline medical sector, especially at this time of high personal risk, feels unjust.

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“If exemptions to the fee status cannot be made, then at the very least, should it not be possible to at least access low-interest student loans?"

Under the present system the Student Loans Company has similar three-year residency rules which mean Zahra is unable to apply.

The family have so far been paying the fees with savings and a small grant they obtained in Hong Kong and have now used up.

Mr Cader added: "Zahra is extremely happy with her education and in particular with the medical school which has been fantastic in their training, and is grateful for being offered a place in the first instance.

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“Our intention is to create awareness about the faults in the fee-determining system, and hopefully invite a solution. We do not have any issue with the university or the medical school.

“Our frustration is with the system, through which the university is forced to charge her international fees especially at this time of medical crisis.”

Both Sheffield University and the Student Loans Company explained that the classification of student fees status as home or overseas is determined by government legislation.

The SLC said they are not able to offer any advice beyond the student funding they administer.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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