Studying in London, Homeless: How My Dreams Were Robbed By 3 Rogue Universities (By Mehran Karim)
Below is a guest post submitted by Mehran Karim, an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in “international business management” at Webster University : London a.k.a. Regent’s American College London which is located at the Regents University London campus. (Karim is one of several dozen students who formerly attended American Intercontinental University : London before its sudden acquisition by Regent’s in 2013.) After our months-long investigation into Webster University : Thailand received massive traffic from around the world, Karim brought our attention to a Change.org petition he had launched for Webster University London in reaction to dozens of American students being abruptly cut off from their U.S. federal student aid (in clear violation of FAFSA guidelines). This in turn lead to our Kate Welenc interview, and now we follow up again with Karim with this guest post. PHOTO: Mehran Karim poses with Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus Mohammed during a social entrepreneurship event in London. “As of now I am working on a social business start-up on the side, with the hopes of beginning a new wave in this up-and-coming field of business,” says Karim.
It was October 2012, my brother Imran and I were thinking of a way to capture our dream of going professional in football, while continuing our education for “safety”. We learned of a great opportunity to study at American Intercontinental University London for not just a single degree but a dual degree (American and British accreditation) and all at about the same time and cost as most other universities. We left our family, our friends, nice jobs, and our home university for an expensive opportunity abroad in London. My father agreed to take out parent plus loans for us in order to cover the high costs of our studies. We were ever grateful of the opportunity and the prospect of studying in such a beautiful city while chasing after our dream of professional football; the tedious work of getting our passports, applying for visas and finding the best priced flight tickets was just a breeze, and before we knew it we had landed in London early in the morning on January 10th 2013. It was a cold and grey introduction to the beautiful city. That same morning, after dropping off our bags at our flat, we headed straight to our university and everything seemed great; great people, nice teachers, and the opportunity for many new friends to be made. We also couldn’t wait to get the ball rolling with football and begin playing with stiff competition for the chance to be seen by a scout for a professional team.
This exciting start was quickly overturned within two months time; the news had come out that our university had been sold to Regents University London. The contracts we had signed with AIUL had been broken without any notice to us students. The malpractice had begun and the rogue universities seemed to think nothing of it. This experience has spiraled out of control in many ways since that day, stemming from malpractices by three universities; American Intercontinental University London (CEC Corporation), Regents University London, and Webster University.
Breakdown of everything that’s happened since that day:
Phase 1: Breaking of our contract – American Intercontinental University London acquisition by Regents University London
Within two months of our studies we were told that our University had been bought by Regents University London. Prior to this we had no understanding of the situation; when signing up to AIUL we had not been told of an ongoing acquisition procedure. We had signed a contract with AIUL to study for four years and a certain number of credit hours; this was broken with no consideration for the students. My brother and I decided to stay in AIUL for another year under their teach-out program before officially transferring to Regents. As expected from the universities, students remained complacent and did not mind the acquisition due to the promises made by both universities (usually by word of mouth); prices would not go up, dual degree would be continued, credits would also be accepted. All of these promises came with some twists; the prices would go up by 4% yearly for inflation adjustment (although inflation is not at this rate), dual degrees would be given only to the Regents American College London students (excluding all students that required government aid and were not Americans, as only American federal aid was processed and no other forms of government aid was accessible), and core classes would not necessarily transfer as core classes which has made it so that some students like myself have to study beyond the credit requirements to receive their degrees (and in turn [this would cost] them more for the degree).
Phase 2: Summer 2014 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) issues
When summer 2014 came we officially transferred and began our summer courses at Regents. It initially seemed fine and looked like everything was going to be okay because we were told that the finances would be taken care of as normal and FAFSA would be accepted (as told to us by our AIUL financial advisor who now works for Regents). The expectation of a dual degree was also “intact”. We finished up our FAFSA application, went through a lengthy process of extra paper work for Webster, which was filled with varying levels of miscommunication. We never had this experience with applying for financial aid under AIUL and the new expectations for receiving financial aid were never made clear to us in the beginning. The new expectations were understandable, just horribly communicated. Finally after a month of our summer term finishing we received our loans and it showed up in our NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System). But even then they wouldn’t release the loan, putting our relationship with our landlord on the brink. This eventually led to our eviction, although the payment was made to the landlord.
Eviction and homelessness
The eviction was a clear fault of the school and indicated the lack of administrative abilities. The original eviction notice was given to our finance director, who chose to ignore it and keep us uninformed. Two weeks into the eviction we were informed merely by coincidence after running into an employee who told us that we had to leave in a couple of weeks. Being that it was almost the start of a new school year, finding flats with the correct terms in London was very complicated and we needed all the time we could get; two weeks in a place like London is not enough time. We went homeless for nearly 48 hours and were severely stressed with a total loss of trust in the schooling system. The difficult search was not completed until the day school started. On the day of school we decided to accept the terms for a flat that did not meet basic needs. The flat lacked essential amenities and had mold everywhere with no ventilation. This damaged our health and mental wellness, but it was the best we could afford given the circumstances the school had put us in.
Phase 3: Return of all U.S. federal loans
When we thought everything was finally under control and that we could continue studying and have a fairly normal student experience, we were hit with a letter from the president of Webster, Beth Stroble, and the vice chancellor of Regents, Aldwyn Cooper:
“…the U.S. Department of Education has made a decision that may affect the way in which you receive your financial support… The amount of funds you receive will be unchanged; it will now just come from a different source… Due to a request made by the American Department of Education we are making an administrative change to the nature of funding support for those of our American students who have been in receipt of, or have applied for U.S. financial aid to study on the Webster University US degree programs at Regent`s [Regents American College London]. Funds are being made available to ensure that your education and student experience remain unaffected. We expect it will take few months to implement the new processes and to embed those processes.”
The loans which had been “processed” for our studies had now been reversed and the slow process of pushing for a bare minimum amount of [any type of] funding from Regents and Webster began. We never received the amount of funding we should normally have; in fact the amount never accrued to what was legally required for our visas and is still not meeting this requirement.
November 2014: Told that we could apply for FAFSA under Regents
All students were told to apply for loans as we normally would through FAFSA, except it would now be done with Regents as the school we use. This of course did not work out and we were told of it failing just before the start of our spring term, giving all of us students the false hope [again] of everything being fine. Had my brother and I known that the school would not be able to process federal loans, we would have used our comfortable [winter 2014] vacation time to progress the fight for our rights; however, that free time was strategically taken from us, thus disabling our capacity for holding the school responsible for their wrongdoings.
Phase 4: “Apply for private loans or transfer campuses”
Nearing the end of our spring term, many students were told to transfer campuses or alternatively apply for private loans. Private loans are complicated and are rarely favorable compared to federal loans. Transferring campuses meant that we could not receive our dual degrees. Due to our mother not working and our father not having any income from personal complications, my brother and I are not even eligible for private loans.
Webster University’s offer
The school has offered [in April 2015] all students the equivalent of their eligibility for Federal Stafford Loans and Pell Grants as a loan. Thus in our case making it so the original $5775 we would receive as grants to be turned into a loan by the school. This loan is without interest and the school did make clear that it would not be considered a loan and is only a “balance due on your Webster University student account”. Even still this credit amount does not come close to covering our costs of studying and completely disregards the original communications made to us about how our experience, studies and funding amounts would not be affected.
Phase 5: Legally Homeless
I am currently legally homeless in a foreign country. I sent the school an email stating this and they have not yet replied and don’t seem to care much. The school is giving me no option but to give up and leave to another university. With that I would lose everything I have put into my education. I would lose the time I have put in, I would lose the money I have put in, and foremost and finally I would lose access to my dual degree.
Nelson Mandela once said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. I personally understand that my future professional opportunities would not be severely affected by this situation if I opted to not receive the “dual” degree and transferred campuses – but the fight against the school is on the grounds of principles. Our right to a fair and just education is important and it is the one thing that we, as Americans and British alike, cannot allow to wither. It is our only chance at keeping our place in this hyper-globalized world. The “student culture” is getting weaker every decade and education is not given enough appreciation.
I want to stand up against this rogue university and make a point to all students that our right to a fair and just education should never be tampered with. Students must understand that they are the ones in control and no university can toss them around as they please. A university should never be allowed to continue in such a manner. Webster and Regents should have known they were breaking regulations by operating in the manner they were. They have jeopardized our education and must be held responsible, not only for my benefit or the students currently affected but for the benefit of students in the future and for benefit of our student culture. Students must wake up and understand that they are the future of our world and the ones in control. If we as students cannot stand up to the wrongdoings of our universities and hold them responsible for any wrongful acts, how could we ever hope to stand up to our governments and hold them responsible for any wrongful acts? And as we are entering this newly hyper-globalized world, the current generation of students will have to stand up against entities larger and stronger than our current governments. Giving up is not a choice.
Thank you for your time and please give light to this issue.
Mehranullah Karimullah (Full name)
Mehran Karim (Preferred name)