African students in India ask their governments for help

The deepening COVID-19 crisis in India has put the African higher education community in the country on high alert and has brought into sharp focus the response of Indian universities to protect their students and lecturers, including thousands of African students.

By 6 May, India had recorded 21,077,410 COVID-19 infections, including 230,168 deaths, according to World Meter.

The Association of African Students in India (AASI) has called on universities, embassies and other organisations involved in higher education to support foreign students and to help them to access vaccinations.

This comes amid rising anxiety following reports that Emmanuel Harrison Ngowi, a Tanzanian national, died of COVID-19 complications in the city of Vadodara while undergoing treatment.

Ngowi was an assistant lecturer at the Moshi Cooperative University in Tanzania before joining the PhD course for business economics at India’s Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in Vadodara in March.

According to the AASI, there are about 25,000 African students enrolled in about 500 Indian public and private universities, with Sudan and Nigeria among the top five contributors of foreign students to India.

Students are also from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Burundi and they opt to study at institutions in India because tuition is more affordable.

Universities help the sick

Delhi University (DU) – one of India’s largest universities, with some 91 constituent colleges – has told the government that it needs its own COVID care facility for sick faculty, staff and family members, having already lost nearly 15 members of faculty and senior administrative officials to COVID-19 in the past few weeks.

DU has more than 40,000 students and thousands of teachers and staff.

DU’s Lakshmibai College set up a 100-bed isolation centre inside its campus in collaboration with an NGO and with permission from the local district administration.

The institution is also setting up a 180-bed isolation centre at DU’s Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College in association with a religious organisation, the college said via Twitter. Of the 180 beds, 125 will be oxygen beds, it said.

The move at DU came after the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi), an autonomous institution outside the Delhi University system, announced on 19 April that, with the city’s medical infrastructure overburdened by the ‘unprecedented crisis’, it would set up a special COVID-19 care facility on campus for students and staff.

The teachers’ association at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a graduate institution, in late April also called for special facilities on campus, pointing to the example of IIT Delhi and other affected campuses.

“JNU is no exception and, in the past two weeks, there has been a sharp increase in cases, which has caused panic and stress among [campus] residents,” JNU Teachers’ Association said.

African students feel the strain

Many students from East African countries have returned home, but about 300 from Kenya are still in India, according to Joshua Boit, a Kenyan student leader studying towards a PhD in media and democracy in the Indian city of Aurangabad.

“So far, three students from Kenya have been infected with COVID-19 during this wave in the past seven days,” Boit said. “Two have recovered and the other one is recovering, too.”

However, students are panicking. “They have been locked down in the hostels, but the problem is the people who cook for them go outside and still come to mingle with the students,” he said.

Boit said many shops have closed due to the surge in cases of the virus. He has also witnessed many ambulances ferrying oxygen gas cylinders to help patients in hospitals.

“When panic mode set in, some people purchased the oxygen gas cylinders and stored them up for use but nobody thought of oxygen concentrators; it is so difficult and other countries have come in to help,” he said.

Many African students studying in India are from humble backgrounds, Boit said. Going home is thus not an option. Besides, most countries are still fighting the pandemic and travel is restricted.

Students staying in India are doing their best to cope with the situation.

Laura Nayere, a masters student in mass communication at Kurukshetra University, in the state of Haryana, 160km from the capital, Delhi, opted to study in India because she got a scholarship. She stays indoors as much as she can.

“COVID-19 is a scary thing and, of course, being in a country where cases are rising every day brings a lot of anxiety, but the most important thing is taking precautions,” she said.

“There has been encouragement from our families and the Kenyan Embassy and from fellow Kenyans here. In case of any alarming issues, we have people to reach out to,” Nayere said.

Boit said that the Kenya High Commission in New Delhi recently issued a letter to remaining students asking them to register and provide their full details for easy assistance from the embassy, as well as to gather data about new students so help could be extended where necessary.

Institutional responses

Whereas some students believe their institutions are taking care of their needs, others are deeply concerned.

Senegalese student Aicha Thiendella Fall, the national deputy secretary of the AASI, told University World News that African students generally do not have health insurance and do not have steady incomes to cover COVID-related expenses.

“Moreover, while most universities have moved their classes and exams online, students still have to move around for different purposes, and this puts them at risk,” Fall added.

“Students do need to follow health protocols, but there is a need for universities, respective embassies and organisations to look into the situation and help these students at risk,” said Fall.

Tanzanian student Elizabeth Ignatus Mwakalile, the vice president of the association, confirmed to University World News that African students are scared and many are trying to go back home.

“We have to restock supplies and food and the lockdowns are exhausting, tireless and mentally exhausting. We usually wonder when it is going to stop,” she said.

Indian universities and COVID-19

At some universities, the needs of African students are being taken care of, according to some students.

Zambian Kabwe Fredrick, a student at Delhi Technological University, told University World News that state and private universities in India have taken the second wave of COVID-19 seriously and are attempting to ensure the safety of students.

“Some universities, if not all, have chosen an online mode of teaching, including Delhi Technological University. A few have suspended classes for the time being as Delhi state has emerged as the worst hit by this second wave,” Fredrick added.

“Secondly, several universities have reserved hostel rooms for international students who are not able to go back to their countries to ensure that there is no overcrowding,” he said.

Zimbabwean student Fibion Mukwati at Ashoka University said his institution has been taking care of his needs as an international student, but friends at other universities were “living on the edge”.

Despite his own institution’s response, Mukwati is still worried. “If one falls ill of COVID-19, it is really hard to get proper medication, oxygen and attention from a public hospital,” he said.

Professor Dhanesh Patel, the director of international affairs at MSU, told University World News that African students are doing well and follow all guidelines of COVID-19.

“We are also in contact with each and every student. We are advising them to use masks, sanitiser, and maintain social distancing, and strongly encourage them to remain in the room unless and until they have important work,” Patel added.


Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor, the director of policy and advocacy for the Nigeria Health Watch, told University World News that the Indian government has opened vaccinations to adults aged 18-44. Some of the students interviewed by University World News said they hoped to get vaccinated.

“In these difficult times in India, African students must reach out to embassies and high commissions of their native countries for guidance and support and could also use social media to share their experiences and call out for help,” said Nsofor, who is also a Senior New Voices fellow at the US-based Aspen Institute and a senior Atlantic fellow for health equity at George Washington University.

University World News Asia Editor Yojana Sharma contributed to this story. This article was updated on 6 May 2021.