Some Romanian and Bulgarian students are being “withdrawn from their courses” after their funding was frozen by the government, according to the National Union of Students.
In November, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced that Student Loans Company fee and maintenance funding had been suspended for Romanian and Bulgarian students at English universities, where those students were claiming maintenance loans or grants.
The students affected must supply proof of residence – including three years’ worth of bank statements and utility bills – to the SLC to have their funding released.
Mr Willetts told a committee of MPs this week that 7,448 students “had payments blocked”. Of those, just 853 have had payments reinstated while 2,783 have “now replied with evidence”.
To be eligible for maintenance funding, European Union students from outside the UK must have been resident in the UK for three years before starting their course. The funding suspension indicates that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills believes that some students were claiming maintenance funds when they were ineligible.
Mr Willetts froze the funding after BIS uncovered a £1.4 billion shortfall in its budget – largely caused by the greater than expected number of students entering higher education under the new system, and a failure to control student numbers at private providers.
All EU students at private providers in receipt of maintenance funding also had their maintenance and fee support frozen.
Ella O’Neil, a fourth-year law and sociology student at the University of Warwick who was born in Romania but has been resident in the UK for 10 years, said she had missed an £800 tuition fee payment owed to the university in November as a result of the funding freeze. She said she had also missed out on £1,800 in maintenance funding and a university scholarship due to her on 6 January.
“It’s very stressful. [I’m] in my final year [and] rather than concentrating on my exams I also have to focus on student finance,” she said.
Warwick has been “quite understanding” and is “not pressing for tuition fee payments”, she continued. But Ms O’Neil added that she still feared what might happen in the future. “I know that if they [the SLC] turn around and say you are not eligible or the evidence [of residence] is not sufficient, then I will have to pay the tuition fees,” she said.
A letter from her sixth-form college stating that she had taken her A levels there had been deemed not to be evidence of residency by the SLC, she said.
Ms O’Neil explained it was Warwick that informed her in November that her funding had been suspended, and that the first letter from Student Finance England did not arrive until this week.
The SLC told her this week that it would take three more weeks to resolve her residency claim, originally submitted at the beginning of December, according to Ms O’Neil.
Daniel Stevens, NUS international students’ officer, said: “I am hearing horror stories of students suddenly being withdrawn from their courses without explanation. It is incredibly unfair to target groups of students by cutting them off from their studies completely.”