Young women at the Helsinki University library. LEHTIKUVA


A Kenyan student died by suicide in Finland on April 18 after being frustrated and depressed from hardships in the country. The student had been studying for a degree in nursing at Laurea University, and took his own life at the age of 26, struggling with frustration and depression in a foreign nation after leaving Kenya on October 30, 2022. Reports suggest that the student had been facing physical health issues since last October and had been bogged down by the difficulties he faced in Finland.

The student was one of the 202 students from Uasin Gishu County who had been granted a study program deal between the county government of Uasin Gishu and three universities in Finland. In the fall of 2022, 65 Kenyan nurses arrived in Finland for custom training at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, but they later discovered that the studies would last for two and a half years. Initially, parents had deposited funds into an account managed by the county. However, several months later, universities claimed that they did not receive the payment of fees, which could lead to these students getting deported. The amount paid in Kenya only covered half of the first year of study. In addition to this, the students thought that the province would pay for the studies. However, the students' families were later made to pay for it. The nursing students, who were promised a one-year qualification and immediate job placement, feel that they have been cheated and the ambiguity overpayment of education has left them with an uncertain future.

The tragic incident serves as a stark reminder of the need for greater support and guidance for international students in foreign countries. In recent years, Finnish educational institutions have been actively pursuing degree export agreements with various countries, including Kenya. These agreements involve offering degree programs to students in foreign countries, either through distance learning or by establishing campuses in those countries.

Ambiguity over payments

Father of the student who died by suicide went on to describe how he and his family had been deceived into paying 70% of the fees, amounting to Sh950,000 (6305 €) out of a total of Sh1.2 million (7964 €). They were told that the remaining 30% would be covered by students who would be studying and working at the same time. However, he pointed out that this was unrealistic, as full-time classes would make it difficult for these students to secure a job and pay the outstanding amount.

The situation of the tuition fees is still unclear and Laurea's principal Jouni Koski says that a final decision is yet to be made. The counties were asked to pay the tuition fee by the end of April. Despite the problems with on-demand training, Laurea University claims that the teaching of Kenyan nursing students will be continued until further notice.

Laurea University has also received inquiries from individual students who wish to pay for the continuation of their studies themselves. According to the law, subscription training can only be sold to groups, and the customer must be from another state or an international organization. Because of this, an individual student cannot be the payer.

Similarly, 125 Kenyan nursing and physiotherapy students studying at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and Tampere Vocational Training Center are facing unpaid tuition fees for the fall semester, which were supposed to be paid by Uasin Gishu Province. However, despite repeated inquiries and reminders, the money did not arrive, causing concerns that the students' studies would be disrupted. To address the issue, TAMK University sent a stern collection letter to Uasin Gishu province in October, warning that teaching would be suspended if the payments were not made by November 26, 2022 which was extended to December last year. This opened a dialogue with the province’s new governor, who promised to investigate the delay in payments and find a solution. In March 2023, TAMK ended its dispute over unpaid tuition fees of Kenyan students as it signed a new agreement on the commissioned nursing and physiotherapy education with Kenya’s Max Global Group.

Students struggle to make ends meet

The situation with the Kenyan nursing students selected by Edusampo Oy, owned by Saimaa vocational school, is also complicated. While the students were supposed to start their studies in Lappeenranta in September, they failed to receive residence permits in Finland. In addition to this, ambiguities in the financing of their education have led to concerns about the source of the funding and the students’ ability to meet the financial requirements for their residence permits.

As a result of missing money transfers, the students are at risk of losing their right to study in Finland and their right to stay in the country. Some families have resorted to debt or selling their property to finance the students’ studies. Some students have even turned to prostitution to make ends meet, Hufvudstadsbladet (HBL) reported. According to HBL, continuing their studies has led students to a worsening financial cycle, because continuing their education has meant working during the educational leave or an increased financial burden on their families. Laurea University’s principal Jouni Koski told HBL that the school has done everything it can to help Kenyan students. The program was intended to provide Kenyan students with scholarships to study in Finland but students and their families had to pay thousands of euros to participate in the project at home, far exceeding the average monthly income in Kenya.

To address these concerns, the Finnish Immigration Service is investigating the money traffic on the Kenyan end to ensure that the students’ livelihoods in Finland are secured during their studies. This includes verifying whether the funds provided by the Kenyan provincial government are a scholarship or a loan, as well as whether the students have paid any significant sums themselves. The investigation may take some time to complete but the aim is to ensure that the students’ studies are not disrupted and that they can obtain their residence permits as soon as possible.

Following a thorough investigation into the scam, a committee of the Uasin Gishu county assembly has recommended further investigations into the management of the overseas education account due to alleged forgery, abuse of office, and lack of integrity.

The unfavorable conditions faced by Kenyan students studying in Europe have come under scrutiny in recent months. In March 2023, hundreds of these scholars faced deportation after Uasin County failed to remit tuition fees for their second semester as per the scholarship agreement, leaving them with only two days to vacate unpaid hostels. The leadership of Uasin Gishu county eventually intervened to save the students from this crisis. At the time, the county governor, Senator Jackson Mandago, signed an agreement with Laurea University to allow students from the county to study there. In September of last year, 67 students were admitted to Laurea University to pursue a degree in nursing, 25 others secured places at Jyvaskylla University to pursue the same program, and 111 students were admitted to Tampere University to pursue a degree in nursing, while others enrolled in a welding diploma program.

It is a wake-up call for governments and educational institutions to take more significant steps in providing support and guidance to these students to ensure their mental and physical wellbeing.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Talking to someone can make a significant difference in overcoming these feelings of hopelessness. There are many resources available to provide assistance during this difficult time. Here are some helplines you can reach out to:

Kriisipuhelin: 092 525-0111
Arabian- ja Englanninkielinen Kriisipuhelin: +3589 2525-0113
Mielenterveyden Keskusliitto, Mental Health Helpline: 0203 91920
MLL Nuortennetti: 116 111

Sonali Telang - HT