Poster boy for Leeds University left to crowdfund tuition fees after uni refuses to help

Liam had just 24 hours to come up with £2,500

A poster boy for social mobility at Leeds University feels “let down” after being left no choice but to crowdfund £2,500 to pay off his tuition fees.

On Tuesday this week, 28-year-old Liam Knights was given just one day’s notice by the university to make the payment, or face being unable to graduate from his Master’s degree in security, conflict and justice.

Liam has featured in multiple promotional materials for Leeds University because of his inspiring story.

The Bradford-born student was made homeless aged 16 and spent four months in prison for stealing £20,000 from a bingo hall.

However, he was able to turn his life around in 2016 after being offered a place on a social sciences foundation course at Leeds University.

Liam on the Leeds University website

In April this year the coronavirus crisis left Liam furloughed from his part-time job at Leeds University library.

With not enough income coming in to cover living costs, Liam felt he had no option but to cancel his final student loan direct debit to Leeds University, and instead use the money to pay the rent and bills on his Hyde Park house share.

Liam said: “I had my student loan coming in and that was the last amount of money I knew I definitely had. Everything else was uncertain.

“I thought, do I want to pay this to the university right now or is it better to keep it and not be kicked out of my home?

“Even now I’m in a big deficit with my bills but at least my rent has been paid. The key thing for me is to have a roof over my head because I’ve not always had that before.”

Liam Knights

Last week, having noticed his Master’s course was coming to an end, Liam contacted Leeds University to discuss the issue of his tuition fees and find out what support would be available to him.

Despite explaining his predicament, Leeds University responded that there was nothing they could do to help.

Less than seven days later, on Tuesday this week, the university’s student education service emailed Liam informing him the deadline for paying his fees was just one day away, and failure to pay would result in no graduation.

An alternative would be to pay off the fees in monthly instalments, but this would take years for Liam achieve and he would be unable to graduate until that time.

Liam said: “Finding out I had just one day to pay the university was pretty gutting to be honest. It felt impossible for me to pay it in one day and I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“It kinda of felt like, well I’ve earned the degree but now I can’t get it because I can’t afford it. I felt let down and was pretty upset and pissed off, it was just shocking.”

With no family support network or savings in place, Liam turned to Go Fund Me, an online crowdfunding website, to try and raise the £2,500 Leeds University required.

In less than a day he received £2,870 in donations, with one person even chipping in £1,000.

Liam said: “I can’t even put into words how it felt seeing all the support I was getting.

“It’s been a massive shock and I’m still coming to terms with it. People I don’t even know were emailing the Chancellor of the university and just sticking up for me.

Liam received an outpour of support from fellow students at Leeds University.

Commenting on a Facebook post linking to Liam’s fundraiser, one student said: “He is literally the face of foundation courses on the Leeds University page. So ironic that he can’t graduate because he’s not privileged enough to be to pay it. What a joke.”

Another student posted on Facebook: “Leeds University are outrageous using Liam as their poster boy and then refusing to let him have his degree, without taking circumstances into account. Shows that it’s not about the education but about the money.”

Liam said: “One positive to come out of this situation is that the support I’ve received from people has completely outweighed the hurt and anxiety I felt not knowing what would happen to me.

“In a weird way I’m glad this all happened because the support I’ve received is going to stick with me, whereas in a couple of years I’ll probably forget the negative stuff.”

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “The University has come to an accommodation with Mr Knights and he will now be graduating to the normal timetable. We wish him the very best for the future.”