David Willets is clearly playing to the gallery by suspending student loans to applicants from Romania and Bulgaria. The first question is: why are loans available to any EU citizens? Pretty basic question, I would say. Still, there we have it, EU rules force us to do it, and so we must.
According to the Daily Telegraph this morning:
“All European Union citizens are allowed to apply for a loan to cover their tuition fees. This means that while Bulgarians and Romanians are not allowed to work in the UK, they can study here. However, only EU citizens who have lived in the UK for three years are entitled to student support grants to cover their living expenses while they study.”
Recovery rates from these students will always be lower than those from the UK, as the traceability will always be harder overseas. At the very least there will be an increased burden on the Student Loan Company (SLC); but this ought to even out as UK students will go to study in European universities. Would they?
According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, here are the numbers of EU member state universities in the Top 400 in the world:
United Kingdom – 51
Germany – 22
Italy – 14
Netherlands – 13
Sweden – 10
France – 8
Belgium – 7
Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland – 5
Portugal – 4
Spain – 3
Poland – 2
Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece – 1
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia – 0
It would appear highly unlikely that this flow of students would be reciprocated, thus putting I disproportionate burden on the SLC, and have it, and the UK Government, running a disproportionate risk of dereliction of loans.
However, this is not where this imbalance ends. Some universities in the UK, such as Essex and Salford, are also offering special bursaries of up to £1,500 for the first year to students from Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania. Not content with punishing UK students taxes dressed up as fees and loans, pushing out places to non-UK citizens and passing the fees of this back onto the ‘clients’ of the SLC the University are awarding grants of our money based on nationality. No wonder our University places are in demand.
The core of this problem, while easily identified as being of the EU’s and Universities’ administrative bodies making, is that it represents a worrying skills and technology transfer. The University system has been developed and paid for by the UK but is rapidly becoming not for the sole benefit of the UK. I am not arguing for a British University places for Britons only policy, far from it, but I am worried that the system that we have built and paid for is being gamed by others, and then once their education here is completed, the skills and knowledge accrued are moving away from the UK. This is not a partnership of equals, and we should not be making it easier for the system to be taken advantage of, and we should certainly not be handing out money that will ultimately have to be paid for by the UK taxpayer.