The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, commissioned by the UK Government, spotlights risks of illicit financial flows to UK education sector
On Thursday 28 January 2021, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) launched a paper called “West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look”.
The paper was commissioned by the FCDO and written by Matthew T. Page, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment. The paper follows on from an overarching assessment of bribery and corruption risks to UK independent schools carried out in December 2020 by the UK’s National Crime Agency and the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce.
This report focuses on West African elites, including those from Nigeria. Its purpose is to start a conversation between independent schools and law enforcement in the UK, to develop our shared understanding of the money laundering threat to the sector and identify how to best address the ongoing risks.
It is difficult to calculate how much illicit finance flows into the UK private education system from West Africa.
However, the report finds that the figure is likely to be more than £30 million in fees alone and that most of these funds emanate from Nigeria (given its size and long tradition of families sending their children to UK private boarding schools and universities) and to a lesser extent Ghana.
This 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% of university students and 30% percent of private boarding school students from countries West Africa have financial links to PEPs.
It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of Nigerian students in the UK pose no corruption risk and their families do not possess unexplained wealth.
However, many institutions are popular destinations for the children of politically exposed persons (PEPs) from Nigeria, including some who channel unexplained wealth into the UK education sector.
One of the reports key findings is that many Nigerian graduates of UK schools and universities are children of PEPs who have been convicted of corruption-related offences or had assets confiscated by UK courts.
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 are 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.
In response to this report, British High Commissioner to Nigeria Catriona Laing said:
“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.”