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Brexit tripled her tuition fees — now she’s fighting to keep her spot at Cambridge

Cambridge University
Having experienced racism herself while growing up in Germany and learning about human rights violations in other countries inspired Ojikutu to study law. Source: Sarah Ojikutu

Sarah Ojikutu, 21, is a Nigerian-German who knows what it’s like to not fit in. Having experienced racism herself while growing up in Germany and learning about human rights violations in other countries (with cases like George Floyd or Yahaya Sharif-Aminu), she was spurred to study law at the University of Cambridge.

Her dreams to fight against human rights violations and racism as a lawyer have, however, been put on hold. After Brexit, EU students no longer qualify for home fee status. This means students like Ojikutu now have to pay international student rates. This comes up to 95,976 pounds (approximately 111,000 euros) for Ojikutu — a rate three times more than local students.

This is beyond Ojikutu’s means. “My mother single-handedly raised me and does not earn a lot of money. I also only have limited resources of my own,” she shares. “Since graduating from high school, I’ve had to provide care to my grandmother who is disabled and has dementia.”

As she’s also not eligible for financial aid by the UK government or German scholarship foundations, she’s at risk of losing her spot at her dream university if she does not show she has the funds by Aug. 15, 2021. After spending years trying to get into University of Cambridge, Ojikutu is not willing to give up just yet. She’s set up a crowdfunding campaign.

Below we speak to Ojikutu about her interest in law and what plans she has as a backup:

Share the current challenges you face with University of Cambridge.

I live with my mother and grandmother. My mother single-handedly raised me and does not earn a lot of money. I also only have limited resources of my own.

Since graduating from high school, I’ve had to provide care to my grandmother who is disabled and has dementia. The reason why I have a three year gap between school and uni.

After Brexit, University of Cambridge tripled their fees to 22,227 pounds a year for EU law students. At the same time, I’m also cut off from all types of financial support and am no longer eligible for a student loan from the UK government or for support from German scholarship foundations.

This has left me feeling helpless dealing with the financial struggles on my own. The uni requires me to provide evidence by fall semester to have a certain sum for tuition and living costs available in my account. Otherwise, they can withdraw their offer and turn my dream down. 

Cambridge University

Sarah Ojikutu’s offer letter. Source: Sarah Ojikutu

Where does your interest in law stem from?

While growing up in Germany and being half Nigerian, I experienced racism. Furthermore, through learning about human rights violations in other countries (with cases like George Floyd or Yahaya Sharif-Aminu) inspired my interest in law. 

I want to learn how I can use the law to defend human rights and hold those who violate them accountable.

What made you choose to study abroad in the UK and at University of Cambridge?

After studying law, I would like to work in an international environment. So, given that I am from Germany, studying in an English-speaking country is going to be very useful.

Cambridge University

“My mother single-handedly raised me and does not earn a lot of money. I also only have limited resources of my own,” Ojikutu shares. Source: Sarah Ojikutu

What attracted me to University of Cambridge was the course structure of the BA Law programme. I can study the areas of law that fascinate me and it’s no secret that this uni is one of the best in the world.

Being mixed-raced and the first in my family to go to uni also adds to the fact that studying here will mean a lot to me. It will also help contribute to reducing prejudice against people from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

What do you think should be done by institutions for international students (especially in times of a global pandemic)?

I think tuition fees should be lowered for international students and we should also be eligible for student loans or financial support. Unis make a large profit by taking in international students. 

Do you have a backup plan?

I don’t believe in having backup plans. I put all of my time and energy into this plan over worrying and wasting time on something I don’t want. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just take it from there.

Tell us about your hometown. 

I’m from Bonn in Germany. If you came to visit, I would take you to the Rhine which is the river that flows through the city. It’s nice to have a picnic there in the summer. I would also show you some of the nice architecture we have. 

What is the local food like there?

The local food in Germany is quite rich in carbs, we eat a lot of bread and potatoes. My favourite food would be my mum’s mashed potatoes and my least would be “sauerkraut” (pickled cabbage). 

What advice do you have for international students looking to study in the UK?

Have a plan as to how you’ll be covering tuition and living costs. It’s incredibly devastating to think about possibly losing your place at your dream uni. Also, don’t forget that in the UK they drive on the left side of the road. 

Cambridge UniversityOjikutu is at risk of losing her spot at her dream university if she does not show she has the funds by August. Source: Sarah Ojikutu

My top three tips to budget as a student abroad:

Check if the app “TooGoodToGo” or something similar is available in your country. This allows you to buy leftover food that might otherwise be thrown away at shops such as Starbucks, groceries and bakeries. 

Try to meal-prep. Rice, oatmeal, frozen veggies and so on, are actually very cheap. Once a week, cook a whole pot of rice and put it in small containers for lunch throughout the week. You can then add veggies and meats on certain days. You will save so much money doing that over eating out.

If you are in the UK, try to buy all of your groceries at Aldi or Lidl. Forget about expensive stores like Waitrose. They are nice but so much more expensive. Also, Poundland is a great store for students to buy things like personal care items, food, and housing things.