Report Highlights Risks of Financial Transfers to UK Schools

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Emma Okonji

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), recently launched a research report carried out on UK private schools, which exposes the risks in financial transactions to UK schools from Nigeria and other West African countries.

The report, titled: “West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look,” was commissioned by the UK government.
The report put illicit finance flows into the UK private education system from West Africa at about £30 million in fees alone, adding that most of the funds emanated from Nigeria, given the country’s size and long tradition of families sending their children to UK private boarding schools and universities, and to a lesser extent Ghana.

The estimated amount was calculated using recent school and university census data, average school and university fees for the 2019/2020 academic year and the more speculative estimate that 5 per cent of university students and 30 per cent of private boarding school students from countries of West Africa have financial links to politically exposed persons (PEPs).

Although the report noted that the overwhelming majority of Nigerian students in the UK pose no corruption risk and their families do not possess unexplained wealth, it however said: “Many institutions are popular destinations for the children of politically exposed persons from Nigeria, including some who channel unexplained wealth into the UK education sector.”
One of the reports key findings was that many Nigerian graduates of UK schools and universities are children of PEPs who had been convicted of corruption-related offences or had assets confiscated by UK courts.

According to the report, recognising the risk illicit financial flows from Nigeria and other parts of the world poses to the UK and its educational sector, UK educational institutions were beginning to incorporate anti-corruption guardrails into their practice.

For example, the Independent Schools Bursars Association and Independent Schools Council are fully engaged with the NCA/JMLIT report and have committed to preventing proceeds of crime from entering the UK and preserving the reputation of UK independent schools. Equally, UK Government agencies are committed to implementing policies to effectively combat illicit financial flows into the UK, it stated.

In response to the report, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing stated: “Tackling illicit corruption in Nigeria is critical to the country’s prosperity and security, and to addressing poverty and inequality.

“The UK is working in partnership with Nigeria to tackle corruption and illicit finance and has excellent relationships with Nigerian agencies and civil society who are fighting corruption.
“The UK has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and remains committed to tackling it wherever it happens, including in the United Kingdom (UK) education system.

“The UK Government commissioned the Carnegie report in order to better understand the risk to the UK from illicit finance in West Africa. We will now consider the reports finding and take a view on what if any further action is required.”