A group of Kenyan nursing students who were offered the opportunity to study overseas in Finland at Edusampo in Lappeenranta are now facing the risk of abrupt deportation due to confusion surrounding the payment of fees. These 15 students were allegedly assured financial support by the Nandi County government, but the promises made have not been fulfilled, leaving the students struggling to make ends meet.
The financial burden has become so significant that they are now facing the possibility of being forced to return to Kenya before completing their educational program. Edusampo has recently announced that the studies will be terminated on May 17. Unfortunately, if their studies are abruptly halted next week, they will be left with a significant gap, missing out on approximately one-third of the credits required to attain their practical nursing qualifications.
Helsinki Times spoke to the students affected by the issue who stated that Edusampo Oy, Suomi International Consultants (Suinco) and Nandi County were the parties involved in the agreement. However, they did not have access to the contract itself to preserve privacy. Instead, they relied on verbal information provided by SuInCo Ltd and Nandi County when enrolling in the educational program. Students have requested anonymity for the article claiming that they have been subjected to stressful conditions recently after their identities were disclosed.
One student, who chose to remain anonymous, shared their experience, saying, "I saw a poster being circulated on social media offering an opportunity to be sponsored to study for a degree overseas. I saw this as a great way to build my professional career as there are limits in Kenya and a lack of employment opportunities for young people like myself. I applied and got it, and as they say, 'the rest is history!' I was told at the time that all costs will be covered by Nandi County."
Another student described the shock and devastation upon receiving the news of the termination of services from the school. "I could not believe what I was being told, and I felt that my whole career had come to an end right there. I felt empty and didn't know what to say. I wanted to ask for help, but I couldn't," the student lamented.
According to Terhi Toikkanen, CEO of Edusampo, the first deadline to make the payment was on December 1, 2022. The deadline has been extended thrice since then and the last deadline was on May 6. The agreement between Edusampo and Nandi County indicated that the county would cover all tuition fees, travel expenses, and living costs for the students. "We have the document signed by the County Secretary of Nandi and the CEO of Suinco where they have mentioned in their own words that the county is paying for everything and the students do not have to pay for anything," Toikkanen told Helsinki Times adding that approximately 100,000 euros, still is outstanding.
Confusion over payments
The overseas education project began a year ago when a delegation led by the Nandi Governor visited Edusampo in Finland. After several months of preparation, an agreement was signed between Edusampo and the Kenyan government. The understanding was that the Nandi County Government, using funds allocated to all 47 counties, would cover the students' expenses throughout their program in Finland, which was scheduled to last for one year.
The students faced challenges with paperwork upon arrival in Finland. They were asked to meet with Finnish Police border staff, causing additional stress and confusion. Despite their efforts to resolve the issue and repeated attempts to contact Nandi County, the students were left in limbo.
“During the process of flying to Finland from Kenya, we were instructed to pay for accommodation, health insurance, and visa fees through SuInCo Ltd and Nandi County. This was unexpected as we were initially informed that Nandi County would cover all expenses as part of their sponsorship. Despite my confusion, I paid the fees to SuInCo Ltd and obtained the necessary paperwork to enter Finland and settle in Lappeenranta. However, upon arrival at Helsinki Airport, all students, including myself, encountered difficulties with the border police, who almost prevented us from entering Finland,” the student explained. Students have claimed that there were 25 of them initially but 10 students were denied permits in Kenya due to their inability to provide the required paperwork for university fee payments.
“For my family back in Kenya, for them, I have to pull myself together but it’s hard not to cry and ask why these people did this to us poor students. Suinco and Nandi County have destroyed everything we had and have taken everything from us, we have nothing now. Why has Kenyan Government allowed this to happen and why has nobody gone to court because this is a scam and will happen to other people. Where are my rights, where is my justice, where is my voice in Kenya?” the student said.
What lies ahead?
Edusampo, however, is reluctant to send the students back to Kenya, especially since two-thirds of their studies have already been completed. The institution is actively engaged in discussions with local health authorities to explore job options for the students. "We do not want to send them back. We are in talks with the local health authorities, and they will be conducting interviews with the students for potential job opportunities," Toikkanen stated, emphasizing their commitment to finding a solution.
However, concerns remain regarding the response from the Nandi County government in addressing the crisis. Toikkanen expressed dissatisfaction with the government's proposal to Edusampo to have the parents sign an agreement to pay the fees directly to Edusampo. "This is not a legal solution. As an institution, we are not permitted to accept payments from individual students. We will be consulting with lawyers to determine the appropriate legal action,” she added.
The ongoing efforts of the local health authorities to find suitable employment for the students are crucial in determining their future course. The potential for securing jobs would enable the students to continue their studies as regular students.
Education export programmes
The incident comes days after the uproar over non-payment of fees for nurses of Uasin Gishu county which led to their deportation risks. In 2022, 65 Kenyan nurses arrived in Finland for specialized training at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, expecting a one-year program. However, they discovered that the studies would last two and a half years. Despite initial deposits made by parents, universities claimed non-payment of fees, putting the students at risk of deportation. The amount paid in Kenya only covered half of the first year, and the students believed the province would cover the expenses. Now, their families were asked to pay, leaving the students feeling deceived and uncertain about their future job prospects.
A total of 139 aspiring nurses and physiotherapists from Kenya have come to Finland through the existing contracts between Kenyan county governments and Finnish universities. These agreements were facilitated under the government education export program known as Education Finland, overseen by the Finnish National Agency for Education.
Kenya has been also facilitating education programmes with different countries like U.S., UK, Canada and Australia. Apart from Finland, Nandi County recently started that Work, Study and Live in Canada program for the May/September on January 9. In addition to this, Kenya’s education ministry announced fully paid scholarships for Kenyan students to study undergraduate degree programs in Slovakia on April 18. Kenya Airlift Program initiative supports have sent several Kenyans to United States to pursue affordable education and funding for IT-related master's programmes.
The ongoing controversy surrounding Nandi County students at Edusampo has brought attention to the lack of transparency in education export deals. However, the students remain hopeful that this situation does not stigmatize all Kenyans, but instead directs attention to the individuals responsible for misconduct. “What hurts even more is the implied stigma, suggesting that all Kenyans are involved in fraud. It's as if they're saying the entire country is fraudulent. Imagine if I were to say Finland is a fraud; it would offend you because you're Finnish and not a fraudster, right? I'm unsure if using the term "fraud" in this way is grammatically correct or appropriate. Perhaps it's due to cultural differences or stereotypes. But the emotions I've experienced since then are unforgettable. Am I not human, just like you?” the student remarked.
Sonali Telang - HT