RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 4


Emmanuel Opoku

BSc Chemistry
Imperial College London
Academics and Charity

For most university applicants, achieving the required entry requirements is cause for celebration. But, for Emmanuel, the moment was bittersweet. Despite securing his university offer, the burden of finding £81,000 to fund his degree stood in Emmanuel’s way.

Emmanuel’s commitment to securing an excellent education was instilled by his mother, Victoria. Aged nine, he moved to the UK from Ghana in order to join his mother who had migrated in search of better opportunities. Although he initially struggled to make the transition and got involved with the wrong crowd, Emmanuel’s ambition and academic potential soon became evident. He achieved 8A*s and 4As in his GCSEs, despite going to school in Hackney, which was one of the lowest performing boroughs in London at the time. Emmanuel went on to achieve 3 As in Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A Level. Emmanuel received an unconditional offer to study Chemistry at Imperial College, London. His and his mother’s dream of securing a top university education was within reach.

But Emmanuel’s immigration status stood in the way. When Emmanuel arrived in the UK, he was given discretionary leave to remain instead of full citizenship. Due to a 2012 change in the law, legal migrants who could work and pay taxes were no longer eligible for student finance. As an international student, Emmanuel needed to find £27,000 to fund his first year alone.

Armed with sheer determination and resilience, Emmanuel set out to overcome this obstacle to the education he had always hoped for. He decided to defer his entry in order to resolve the issue through legal means. Emmanuel tried to appeal the Home Office’s decision and sought advice from all possible avenues: his old principal, Members of Parliament, solicitors and friends. The appeal failed and no one knew what to do.

Although his initial efforts failed, Emmanuel chose to make the most of his enforced gap year. He spent four months volunteering as a Medical Research Assistant in The Gambia, an experience that keeps him “grounded” to this day. Emmanuel returned to the UK inspired and was determined to make a positive impact on the lives of others. While he worked as a teaching assistant at his old school, Emmanuel also got involved with Let Us Learn, a campaign to highlight the plight of students in a similar position to him.

“My experience in Gambia humbled me. When I returned to the UK, I knew I had to make a difference.”

Let Us Learn secured their first major victory soon after Emmanuel joined the campaign. A win in a Supreme Court case led to a change in the law to ensure other legal migrants do not face similar obstacles. Unfortunately, Emmanuel was unable to take advantage of this change and continued to struggle to finance his degree. Despite working for a year, he had still only raised half of the £27,000 needed to fund his first year at Imperial.

However, Emmanuel’s efforts soon began to pay off. He was awarded a competitive scholarship from the TIKO Foundation, an educational grant giving charity, who paid his tuition fees for the entirety of his degree. The battle was half won. Emmanuel now needed to cover his living costs as he, his mother and younger sister were living in temporary accommodation. By a stroke of good luck, Emmanuel met the CEO of Hubbub, an educational crowdfunding platform. With the support of family, friends and a campaign supported by The Independent, Emmanuel managed to raise £26,000 in six weeks.

“I want to leave a legacy, even if it’s to change one person’s life for the better.”

Emmanuel began his Chemistry degree in September 2015. Since then, he has continued to work actively with the Let Us Learn campaign by raising awareness in schools, universities and other educational institutions. Emmanuel has also delivered a TED Talk called ‘Lost in the numbers: the story of a young migrant’ at TEDxEast End. When he isn’t studying or campaigning, Emmanuel can be found playing in a Brazilian Samba band or DJing across London. In ten years’ time, Emmanuel expects to return to education as a teacher, inspiring students to speak out against the injustice they experience in their everyday lives.

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