Rectors support campaign for deported student’s appeal

Professor Anne Husebekk, rector of the University of Tromsø in Norway, has been criticised for taking the unprecedented step of organising a campaign to raise funds for an appeal against a decision to reject a student’s residence visa application and ban him from re-entering the country for five years.

The money raised, NOK112,000 (US$13,400), was needed to support the cost of the court proceedings on 20 August, in which the student from Madagascar, Céderique Lavasoa Augustaves, had to make his case via Skype.

Husebekk told Khrono, a national online newspaper for the university sector, that the collective action to support the student was about “solidarity and care for a student” who has been unfairly treated like a criminal.

But former justice minister Per-Willy Amundsen from the Progress Party said it was problematic of the university to take a “politicised” stance on the issue.

Augustaves applied in June 2017 for a one-year residence permit to complete a masters degree in international fisheries before the end of June 2018.

The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) rejected Augustaves’ residence visa application in October 2017 on the grounds that he did not have the required funds deposited in his bank account (NOK113,000) to cover his living costs in Norway, a rule which applies to self-paying students.

According to Augustaves, the information about his financial situation was incorrect. He said he had received the required amount as a loan from his previous supervisor, a Norwegian academic, at the time of applying for a visa. But as he had secured work in Tromsø that could cover his living expenses and was able to pay the loan back, he had paid it off.

This account did not satisfy the authorities, who demanded that he have the correct amount in his account as a guarantee all year and questioned whether the money was a real loan or had been temporarily credited to give the impression that Augustaves had the money, according to a report in Khrono.

Augustaves took the case to court. In June, two weeks before his final exam, the lower court decided that the decision for deportation had to be prolonged by two weeks so that he could have a chance to finish his masters degree.

For that legal challenge, the University of Tromsø paid the NOK50,000 expenses of Augustaves’ lawyer.

This move was criticised by Amundsen and the ministry of education also commented negatively on the use of public money to support a case against the government.

Amundsen repeated the criticism when rector Husebekk supported the private fundraising campaign for the second phase of the legal challenge, the 20 August appeal.

He told Forskerforum, the researchers’ magazine, that Husebekk had an unclear understanding of her different roles. "Ten years ago this would not have been possible. I find it problematic that Norwegian universities and internationally, are politicised and take standpoints in ongoing public debates," he said.

But Husebekk told Khrono: “I think the criticism of the previous round was strange. It is a loss for the nation that a student does not complete his education. But in this round we think the case is of a more private law nature and supports a collective action. I have contributed myself.”

President of the National Union of Students in Norway Håkon Randgaard Mikalsen gave his full support to rector Husebekk stating that they find it very positive that she had taken the side of the students against the government and the bureaucracy.

The rector of the University of Oslo, Professor Svein Stølen, said that the government cannot silence Norwegian university rectors, and the rector of the University of Bergen, Professor Dag Rune Olsen, said that he personally would support the fundraising action.

Ane-Marie Hektoen, who is programme coordinator of the masters study programme in international fisheries at the University of Tromsø, told University World News that the legal challenge is a move towards securing the rights of students paying tuition fees in Norway and that the Norwegian government agencies should not be allowed to push international students around in bureaucratic circles.

Key question

Following the deliberations in the appeal court on 20 August, which she attended, Hektoen said a key question for the court to determine is whether it supports the prime argument of the appellant that the money lent by his previous supervisor was a de facto loan and not a proforma loan to fulfil the residence permit requirements.

The ruling of the Oslo district court is expected in early September. Augustaves so far has not registered to study for a PhD. If he loses the case, he would be expelled from the Schengen area and have a criminal record, leaving him with a “very uncertain” future, Husebekk said.

Meanwhile, this case has further ‘roiled the waters’ in the increasingly heated discussion over a government proposal to decouple universities from the state, which some opponents believe is a means to make it possible to introduce tuition fees.

Student unions and most rectors are now against such deregulation, stating that the bureaucracy that would accompany the introduction of tuition fees would result in more cases similar to Augustaves’ and hence undermine Norwegian universities’ internationalisation work.