Nabil Ahmed – President of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) – guest writes about a new dilemma facing young British Muslims.


With over 100,000 Muslim students in the UK now in higher education one would imagine that the future of Muslims in the UK, academically at least, would be extremely positive. Over the years the numbers of Muslim students attending university has rapidly progressed from a time when it was simply international students to a point now where the majority of Muslim students are British born and emerging as leaders of our communities. The importance of British Muslims who are able and willing to go to University cannot be understated.

Through education we are living those timeless teachings that we all know: “Read! In the name of your Lord”, “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?”, “Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for people who have understanding”. Education is at the heart of a change of condition and the fulfilment of a command; at an individual as well as a collective level.

Let us realise the particular immense value of higher education. Through educating our youth in Universities today we are insha'Allah planting a seed, where we will grow Muslims who are successful leaders, business people, academics, politicians, community leaders, scientists and so forth. We will insha'Allah through this develop individuals who are not only able to achieve and contribute from a level playing field in a country where many go to University, but who are also serious leaders able to tackle the challenges of our time and reform the world we live in.

The UK's reputation for providing world-class higher education and facilities is clearly evident and is something that Muslim students have long been privileged with. That four out of the top 10 universities in the world were UK-based institutions, with Cambridge knocking off Harvard from the top spot for the first time since 2004, is telling. Moreover, there are thousands who seek to apply each year to the country's top institutions. For Muslims in the UK, it has almost been taken for granted that we will naturally enter higher education.

However, this is where the good news stops. This could all change very quickly as government proposals seek to radically change the funding structures to higher education. As well as poorer communities, Muslim students in particular face being disproportionately affected by these proposals.

Amid the global financial crisis, universities in the UK face major cuts to teaching budgets and the former system of a maximum £3,290 per year tuition fee has been deemed unsustainable. Thus the UK's coalition government last week announced proposals that universities could charge students £9,000 a year, meaning students studying a 3 year university course could end up with an average debt of at £25,000 – before even considering the cost of living at University. Of particular concern for Muslim students is that any student loans taken out to pay for the tuition fees would have to be paid with a market-rate of interest of 3% plus inflation. This differs to the current system where student-loan interest is linked to the rate of inflation.

These proposals are contrary to the pursuit of a fair and accessible education system and would increase social inequalities. The prospect of a £25,000 debt in university fees alone will not only serve to deter people from less advantaged backgrounds from applying to university, it will result in our highest quality institutions becoming financially ring-fenced, outside the reach of the majority of students.

Secondly, these proposed changes will have a devastating impact on Muslim and black and minority ethnic (BME) communities who are under-represented in Higher Education and already face a number of barriers towards participation. The encouragement of BME and Muslim participation in Higher Education is crucial, however, if enforced, these proposals will further discourage Muslim students, a significant number of whom are from deprived backgrounds, from continuing onto university.

Unlike the US, where high tuition fees are often subsidised by scholarships, the UK has only recently began charging students to enter into higher education, and as such, there are no effective systems or processes to ensure that the poor are not priced out of university. When one takes into consideration that the Muslim community is the poorest in the UK – nearly 50% of Pakistani and Bengali people in the UK are below the poverty line and are likely to earn less money than any other ethnic community – we can begin to see the dire ramifications of these new proposals.

Finally, this issue is compounded by the market rate of interest on student loans, the main form of “assistance” provided by the government. In the past there has been a discussion in the Muslim community as to whether such loans are permissible, as the interest due would be paid back at the rate of inflation. However, at a market rate of interest of 3% plus inflation this is the point-of-no-return for a number of Muslim students.

As responsible leaders we realise that this is an issue for communities around the UK; and in particular, we realise the impact on Muslim students. It is wrong for the poor to be priced out of education and face a debt of over £25,000 before even starting; education should be accessible to those able and willing, not just those that can afford it. And we realise that a market-rate of interest is no solution to rising debt-levels for students – interest is at the heart of social inequality and will only increase debt for all students. We cannot accept the door of higher education being shut to young Muslims.

Unless of course, we work hard to prevent these proposals from being passed.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies has been working with a number of Muslim organisations, scholars, community leaders and the National Union of Students (NUS) to campaign against the proposals. The response has been fantastic, and in collaboration with the Muslim Council of Britain, we disseminated a khutbah to a number of masajid and university Islamic Societies on the topic.

We have had phenomenal support from a number of scholars and community leaders, including Abu Eesa Niamatullah, who realise the significance of these proposals and the negative impact this will have on the Muslim community. The response from Islamic Societies has been equally impressive and in conjunction with FOSIS, many Islamic Societies have signed a joint statement expressing concern with the HE funding review. FOSIS have also been working closely with the NUS, highlighting the issue to raise concerns with MPs, and worked to get as many students to attend a national demonstration that took place on 10th November 2010 in Central London.

We will continue to publicise the issue and work to campaign on behalf of Muslim students. We were interviewed by BBC News, and we hope that this is just the start, but we need your support!

What can you do?

It is vital that the Muslim community takes an active role in opposing these proposals and here are ways to get involved:

  • Lobby your local MP, particularly Liberal Democrat MPs who were looking to scrap tuition fees altogether before the general election
  • Raise awareness locally about the issue – for example, for a copy of the khutbah on education and higher education for Muslims please contact us (see below) – add this article to your Facebook or post-up Abu Eesa's video
  • If you are a local institution or mosque please sign our statement (email to below)
  • Contact FOSIS and get involved in some of the initiatives we are running: vp.studentaffairs[@]fosis.org.uk

20 Responses

  1. iMuslim

    I was fortunate enough to enroll as an undergrad when the Local Education Authority were still prepared to pay the £1K+ annual tuition fees. When the 3K fees were introduced, it was shocking enough: the prospect of 9K is preposterous. Parents are already in debt with mortgages, and many have been made unemployed with the recession… and what about those families with more than one child? Where is the money meant to come from overnight?

    I don’t understand how the UK is meant to become the Science and Engineering capital of the world, when in a few years, thanks to these proposals, there will be dramatically fewer scientists and engineers! It’s already hard enough convincing young people to go down this path, without the fear of a debt burden.

    Further, the article didn’t mention the possibility of a two-tier HE system, where the top unis are more likely to charge the higher fee, and so make the best education even less accessible!

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  2. Ify Okoye

    Even though, the increase does seem rather high, I don’t see any solutions being proposed. Obviously, many governments (even in the U.S.) are cutting budgets for education but other than trying to prevent a tuition increase, what other ideas and alternatives are FOSIS and others proposing to keep tuition rates low?

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    • Umar

      Lool. I agree with hakim!

      Are you with us or against us!!

      The government have highly educated economists who probably know how to solve the problem – that’s not the issue of the average student. We just don’t want high uni costs ok?

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    • Sidiq

      There is no need to bring forward alternatives as the education cuts are not there to offset the budget deficit. Our treasurer’s plan to to balance the budget is expected to be complete by 2014, just after the education cuts have even begun to take effect.

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  3. Mezba

    Education, research, good professors – they all cost money. And costs keep going up. If not the students, who do you think should pay for the increasing costs? There must be a balance between accessible education and overburdening the institutions. When I posted my thoughts in “Islamic financing” one commentator said if needed Muslims should not get an education – that’s a “test” from Allah.

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  4. Safia Farole

    When I read that UK university students have to pay $14,000 as a result of this new policy, I couldn’t believe my eyes because in the US university students pay an average of around $30,000 to attend public universities. I was suprised to find out that in the UK the cost of attending university was subsidized by the government until a few years ago when they decided to start charging tuition. I wish US students would rise up like this. Across the board, universities here are being hit up with tuition hikes – especially public universities.

    check out US tuition fees at this link:

    http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/national-universities-rankings

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    • Umar

      In the uk, both healthcare and univesity fees are subsidised by the government – but then we pay higher taxes so it evens out.

      Also, it may seem a small amount £9000 ($14,000), but we’re talking of a three fold increase. It’s like your fees going from $30,000 -> $90,000. Actually cut that. But you get the point. It is a relatively big increase. Ultimately, it is the poorer people who are suffering from this change. Not to mention the crippling debt, but the haramness (is that a word?) of paying interest on loans to finance the course.

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      • Safia Farole

        Thank you Umar for the insight – its good that we learn about the plight of students around the world. I certainly feel for you all. I’m a former university student and I stand in solidarity with the UK students (of course, supporting the peaceful protesting). I myself was able to make it through college with generous government subsidies that I qualified for as a result of my low-income family. Without that, college would probably have not been an option for me (at all). May Allah help you all out of this crisis – funding for higher education truly is a crisis situation.

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    • SA

      Safia its the same in Canada.The average tuition fee is around ~$6500/yr BUT with the enormous taxes we pay I think Canadian students have the right to have such low fees!If you are in a certain income bracket you can literally see upto 1/2 of your income going toward taxes. I hope Canada doesn’t follow UK in hiking up the fees (and Inshallah it won’t). We have already had a fee hike and its not been easy.Being a student there only so many part-time jobs you can do to fund your education!

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      • someone

        between the years 1995 to 2010 there`s been a 57% tuiton fee hike in Ontario. Its not just budget cuts that hike up tuition fees, its also the increase in enrollment. More students higher fees.

        “ the UK has only recently began charging students to enter into higher education, and as such, there are no effective systems or processes to ensure that the poor are not priced out of university“

        thats amazing, well it was good while it lasted. So in essence it costs less to go to Cambridge University then any other Ivy league school in U.S.

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  5. once a student

    Some clarification please – I was under the impression that those universities choosing to charge over £6K, would have to provide students with bursary/scholarship opportunities too. If plans for fee increases do go ahead, what will the NUS and Fosis do to ensure universities provide the adequate & fair bursary schemes, and moreover what will you do to help sixth-formers navigate the tricky landscape of scholarships and bursaries?

    I completely agree that raising fees will prevent and discourage students from going onto university, and in effect reinforce the class issues which have/do surround access to higher education – but on the flip side HE is just one of the routes to becoming a knowledgeable and positive member of society. University is a brilliant experience, but young people need to think more creatively about how they can achieve their ambitions – a degree no-longer holds the value it used to (though I acknowledge that a hike in fees might change this!) and today’s batch of teenagers need be more savvy in reaching their chosen destination.

    p.s. Hats off to those who peacefully protested yesterday.

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  6. ummousama

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I propose four solutions:

    1. If you know French, go and study in Belgium, the fees are only 800 Euros! Yes, only 800. And the education that you will receive is good! And for those living in Belgium whose parents are on low income, it is even much lower than that.

    2. As FOSIS, develop a system with Muslim Businesses where Muslim students can apply for loans to be able to study.

    3. Work for a few years and then start your further education. You can also study online (not for all courses though). This is cheaper and you can work at the same time.

    4. Campaign the MPs so that, at least those whose parents are on Tax Credits can have financial help.

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    • Sidiq

      Good ideas, but numbers 2 and 3 are a tad unrealistic though. Something like number 2 exists where students are offered full scholarships by companies that are impressed with them, in return for the student’s commitment to do internships and eventually be employed by them.

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  7. Saiyyidah

    Shouldnt we be trying to create a fund for our Muslim students that is an interest free student loan system? Make it into somethign that can benefit the whole community and it will attract worldwide news but also be the most amazing dawah project. This is something that I want to do and if anyone has any ideas how I can fund raise please let me know inshaAllah.

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    • Islam

      MashaAllah, great idea, we could have some sort of repository where businesses/individuals pay/donate to, and use that to help students.
      There needs to be some sort of selection process to ensure the ones who do get help, if it’s not enough for everyone, are motivated and serious.
      If managed well, and proven to work, wealthy business people (Muslim or otherwise) willing to help the community can support it. Drop-out rates need to be kept low to maintain confidence in the system.

      It is something that can start very slowly but feasible nonetheless.
      May Allah grant us the favour of such project.

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  8. BrownS

    This problem hits individuals, but the solution has to come from the community as a whole. Individually, we see rocketing tuition. Individually, we are told that interest is haram. Yet, also individually, we realize that education is no longer a luxury and to fulfil our responsibility as Muslims we can’t stay away from higher education.

    The solution then, must come from a group of people in the community who scrape together some money that can be used to fund students’ tuition on a rolling basis. Gather $20k and use it to make up the difference between the fee and what the student can afford for four years. When he graduates, let him pay back into the fund every year. So every five years you can fund a new student by simply recycling the money. To grow the fund, you can ask graduating students to keep paying for an extra 4 years (after they complete their original four) and then at the end of the second four years, return their money to them. Or expedite the payback process to one plus one year (you typically earn more in one year than you spent on tuition). There are creative solutions!

    This can be done on a family basis, on a community basis (in England, perhaps on a block by block basis? :) ) or whatever. There doesn’t need to be a lot of administration overhead. It doesn’t need to solve EVERY student’s problem in EVERY community. Start small and make a model that can be replicated. But this HAS to happen! Communities need to make this leap of faith instead of telling each other on the outside that riba is haram, providing no solution, and then basically acquiring interest-bearing loans on their own to preserve their individual and family interests and status. I think large and mature communities in England are good candidates to push for something like this.

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  9. Omar

    Brother I’m so sad about this issue but why is it that Muslims are the poorest group in the uk when we immigrated at the same time as other ethnic minorities. An example the indian community who seem very successfull and prosperus, what has gone wrong. Also I encourage all our sisters to wear the niqab to help keep the purity of our values.

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  10. Nur al Hayat

    So now that these university fees have been put in place, what do you suggest muslims do now?

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