FAQ: So they froze student loans for Bulgarians and Romanians…

Here’s a list of questions and answers about the situation that will hopefully clear some things up. Last updated on Dec 2.

1. What, they get loans?

Yes, EU students can get student loans in the UK (Romania and Bulgaria are in the EU). There are two types they can get. The first is the tuition fee loan, which every EU student can claim to cover their fees. This is paid directly to the institution so the student doesn’t see a penny of this. The second is the full student loan, which includes tuition fees and the maintenance loan which is paid to the student to cover living costs. EU students can only get this full loan if they have been living in the UK for three years or longer by the time their course starts.

2. What’s the problem?

There have been lots of applications for the full loan made by Bulgarian and Romanian students this year. Remember this is the one where you need to have been living in the UK for three years to qualify, so it can’t be about the “impending invasion”.

Because the number is very high, over 5000, Universities Minister David Willetts has decided to freeze loans in order to investigate the matter(x). Apparently lots of these applications were made by people who want to study for Higher National Diplomas (not degrees) and quite a lot of them go to the same schools; it’s starting to look suspicious.

Pretending to be a student in order to get money off the government is wrong, so it’s understandable why they should make sure these funds go to people who are actually entitled to them and truly need them. Freezing someone’s account because of potential problems with their application is fine. Freezing a lot of students’ accounts because a few of them might be fraudulent is unfair and might actually leave good honest people trying to get an education unable to pay their rent.

3. What do they want?

According to the SLC employee I spoke to this morning, they will ask for more evidence of residency, either in the UK if they doubt people have been living here for the required three years, or in an EU country (if it looks like they aren’t even EU nationals).

4. Is my loan affected?

If you only have a tuition fee loan and have been studying here for a while, the likely answer is no. If you receive both loans and just started getting them, it’s possible. If your account is frozen, you will receive some form of communication from SLC (could be an actual letter so check your post) explaining what happened and what you need to do to get things sorted.

Some things to think about

Why didn’t they detect the potentially fake applications before they approved them? Each student has to submit evidence before their application is assessed, such as a passport and financial statements. If there are over 5000 suspicious accounts this year, something must have gone wrong at the screening stage.

Why are they singling out “Romanians and Bulgarians” now? Why is it not a single country, or all EU countries? This feels a lot like someone jumping on the hate bandwagon directed towards the two countries as January approaches, when they finally get full working rights. A desperate cry of “look UK nationals, something is being done to knock these two countries down”. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]

Instead of blaming and punishing an entire group of people for something that might not even have happened – it could turn out that all of these applications were valid in the first place – why not focus on improving the screening method at the first stage of the application process? Next year, let’s be 100% sure people who receive student loans are actually legitimate students. Go ahead and investigate the accounts that actually look suspicious, but don’t ruin it for everyone else in the process.

UPDATE Nov 22:

The British Embassy in Sofia released the following statement (x):

Regarding the recent announcement on the change in maintenance loans for Bulgarian and Romanian students in the UK, we would like to clarify:

The UK welcomes students from all over the world. Tuition fee loans remain unaffected. All EU students, including Bulgarian ones, are eligible to apply for them without the need for a residency test.

The announcement on student loan payments refers only to maintenance loans and payments where EU students have been residents in the UK for 3 years or more.

Because of an unexpected sharp rise in applications for maintenance loans from students from Romania and Bulgaria, these loans have been suspended as a precautionary measure whilst applicants provide further evidence of eligibility. All EU students residing in the UK will be asked to provide additional information before receiving their next payments.

The suspension now affects all EU students receiving maintenance loans, not just Romanians and Bulgarians.

UPDATE Dec 2

Times Higher Education published a piece that caused a bit of confusion among Romanian and Bulgarian students, as it made it sound like all student finance for the two groups is suspended pending further investigation.

Student Finance England cleared it up today:

 

Featured image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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