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Student saved after best friend’s dad pays tuition fees

PICTURED: George Okoro, right, with his best friend Kris Tagoe

A STUDENT who faced being thrown out of university and barred from graduating after struggling to pay his tuition fees was saved after his best friend’s father stepped in to save his education.

George Okoro, 21, a business management undergraduate at Royal Holloway, was at a loss of how to cover a bill in excess of £21,500.

After receiving a letter demanding he settle the bill, Okoro set up a crowdfunding page. But just days after he did, he was informed that the fees had been paid by Noel Tagoe, his best friend’s dad.

Despite having never previously met, Tagoe, an executive Vice President at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, who heard of Okoro’s plight through his son, Kris, made the decision to pay off the fees.

Speaking to The Voice about how he felt when he found out about Tagoe’s incredible gesture, Okoro said: “I felt a huge burden lifted of my shoulders, myself and my mum did. It was this colossal debt that kept piling up and graduation drew closer and closer and we were sure it was not gonna be paid before then and I would not receive my degree. Also with the huge chance of being kicked out, which almost happened.”

Tagoe, told The Voice that his Christian faith was one of the major factors that motivated him to act.

He said: “We are each other’s brothers and sisters and that you don’t walk away when someone is in need and you can help.

“Second, I believe in education. It transforms the lives of people, their communities, the organisations they work for and the countries in which they live. Investing in education should be our highest priorities. Finally, the older generation ought to give back to society. And what better way to give than to help the younger generation to fulfil their hopes and dreams.”

GENEROUS: Noel Tagoe

The extreme generosity hasn’t just provided short term relief for Okoro, who came to the UK from Lagos, Nigeria, six years ago, but has enable him to achieve longer term goals.

“It really means a lot. I can continue my relationship with my friends and gain my degree for which I've been working on three years now, hopefully getting a good job afterwards and being able to properly repay my mum for her hardwork and also make the rest of my family proud, and more importantly, bring my family out of debt,” he said.

Responding to the fact that Okoro said the donation has changed his life forever, Tagoe said it was “truly humbling” to hear.

The act has changed a profound impact on his relationship with both Kris and his family.

“It's changed our relationship forever. I sent him a message that although we've always called each other bro in text or in real life...I now consider you my brother. When I had a meeting with his dad, myself and my mum, his dad called me family and that really meant a lot, because they've already done so much for me. Now they consider me family. It's still an amazing thing and I'm still in awe,” Okoro said.

Expressing similar sentiments, Tagoe said: “I regard George as family. After all, he is a very good friend of my son so he has become my son by extension. I mentor a lot of young people across the world. They need guidance, direction and encouragement at school, to get employed and to succeed in their employment. I am committed to helping George in all these ways.”

Okoro, who plans to go into investment banking is also hoping to set up a programme in future to help international students who find themselves in similar situations to him. And he’s already got a headstart on that. The money that he had already raised through his initial crowdfunding campaign, before Tagoe stepped in, has gone to help another student in need. After Tagoe’s donation, Okoro no longer need to hold on to the funds. He was contacted by a friend at the Swansea University who knew someone in a similar situation and after verifying the student’s financial needs, Okoro transferred the money to him.

“It's pretty amazing to be able to carry on with the good deeds and show more faith in humanity, to be a part of something like this,” he said.

Okoro is by far the only student struggling with fees, and both he and Tagoe believe there should be more help available for young people who get into difficulty when it comes to paying their tuition fees.

“I definitely think there should be more support. I read comments on the Daily Mail and read some which weren't very nice and clearly, those were from people who didn't understand because they were not educated on the matter. Comments like, ‘why go to school if you can't pay?’, well, because I feel like for me myself, it's how I thought I could make a future for myself and take my family out of debt.

“And I couldn't get student finance because I'm not from the UK or a EU students. When you're not from the UK or EU, the government don't really care how you do it. It's either you have the money to go or you don’t go at all. My mum always said, she didn't go to uni so she would make it her mission for her children to go as there's nothing like an education. And that's partly why I do it,” he said.

While Tagoe agrees that institutions need to do more, he is also thinks that there needs to be more awareness raised around the issue, which affects many more students than are highlighted in the news.

“Universities should be doing more for students. But this is not only for universities, government, industry, civil society and individuals can help. For some reason, such challenges do not come to the public attention. George’s case and the publicity around it has raised awareness. For that to mean anything the awareness should lead to action,” Tagoe said.

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