A handful of entepreneurs, some of whom were international students themselves,
have started a revolution in enabling access to international study through leveraging loans
aimed at this unique student demographic. While banks had sometimes made this possible,
these new loan companies have popularised the concept, as Callan Quinn reports.
ISSUE #26 | THE PIE REVIEW | 55
“IN LATE 2013 an international student
at my alma mater, the University of Virginia,
reached out to me and other alumni and said
he was US$500 short on his rent that month. He was about
to get evicted and just plainly thinking about dropping out
of school,” remembers MPOWER Financing co-founder and
CEO Manu Samdja.
“And that was really a light bulb moment for me. In my
head, I thought, why are we letting these students down?
Why aren’t we lending to this demographic? So I sent the
student the money but I kept wondering ‘how big is this is-sue
and how do we solve it systemically?’”
When Smadja arrived in the US as an international stu-dent
from France, he recalls the financial struggle he himself
went through. Like many students, he took on a range of
odd jobs to make ends meet, from tutoring in maths, physics
and computer science to, at one point, working as an indoor
soccer referee (which he has been known to jokingly com-pare
to refereeing a cage fight).
He was able to continue his studies with family support
but says “the seed was planted” with regards to not under-standing
why international students had such limited access
to funding beyond their own families.
His experiences are hardly unique. It’s telling that the
new generation of alternative loan provider companies are
often the brainchildren of former international students.
The international student loan industry has developed
rapidly over the last few years, particularly for graduate
students, and caters to a particular type of student that
may not be able to easily access financing from traditional
banks due to strict rules regarding collateral, co-signers,
guarantors and documentation.
ILLUSTRATION: BEA RAMIREZ