University conferences at risk as academic speakers refused UK visas

The Guardian reports that when Christiana Ejura Attah, a barrister and academic from Nigeria, applied for a visa to speak at a renowned international African studies conference held at Cambridge University in September, she was denied entry to the UK.

British embassy officials decided Attah was likely not to return to Nigeria, because her husband, also an academic, had been granted a visa to the same three-day conference. Officials chose not to take into account that she would be leaving four children in Nigeria, or that she had a letter from her vice-chancellor at the Joseph Ayo Babalola University confirming her credentials and that she had been supported to make her UK visit with a £2,500 grant.

Dr Insa Nolte, president of the African Studies Association of the UK, which hosted the conference, is outraged by Attah’s treatment, and in particular the apparent gender bias. “That visa officers think it appropriate to make their judgments based on a woman’s marital status in relation to her husband’s travel plans is staggering,” she says.

Attah’s case is far from isolated. At least 14 African academics couldn’t attend the same conference because of visa problems – the society suspects the actual number may be much higher. Academics from different disciplines across the UK are reporting similar frustrations, warning that Britain is quietly closing its doors and damaging vital academic collaboration.

Two applicants from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and the University of Ibadan in Nigeria were refused visas on the grounds that they had insufficient personal funds. Yet they had shown that their visit to the UK was fully sponsored by the Harry Guggenheim Foundation, a US charity that supports young African scholars.

New fears are developing that similar visa problems will inhibit British collaboration with European academics after Brexit. In June, a presentation by a historian from Tunisia at an international conference on Brexit at Portsmouth University had to be cancelled when he didn’t get his visa in time. Organisers say it made them realise how burdensome applying for a visa can be.

Read the full article University conferences at risk as academic speakers refused UK visas

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