Romanian and Bulgarian students fear exclusion from UK universities after being faced with loan freezes

 

A number of Romanian and Bulgarian students at UK universities fear losing their places due to loan freezes as part of a Student Loans Company investigation.

Those affected are being told by Student Finance England (SFE) or their universities that they are no longer eligible for loans and maintenance grants, and cannot pay the next instalment of their fees. Some have even been told to start repaying money apparently because they are believed to have been withdrawn from their courses. 

"It's absurd," said Rayna Petrova, a second-year International Relations student at London Metropolitan University, who found out this week that she is no longer eligible for finance when she didn't receive her maintenance loan as usual.

Rayna went to secondary school in the UK and has had to contact SFE to provide proof. She fears losing her place if she is unable to pay the next instalment of her tuition fees. London Metropolitan University declined to comment.

Last year, some university loans for students from Romanian and Bulgaria were frozen as part of an investigation into a "suspicious" number of students enrolling at British colleges and universities.

"The actions of the authorities are based only on the grounds of our nationality," said a second-year Bulgarian-Turkish Criminology student from the University of the West of England, who preferred not to be named. "We are not seeking benefits, simply borrowing. We should not be deprived of the great British academic community."

His payments have been frozen without notice, yet he provided SFE with information when he first applied for the loans. He received a letter asking to repay a maintenance grant of £1,118 as they said they had left the course early. 

He intends to find work here after he graduates.

"Five years ago I was a failure of a man. I am really am thankful to Britain for giving me opportunities I didn't have back in Bulgaria, and I really want to return the favour; I want to contribute to this county."

Keith Hicks, director of marketing and communications at the University of the West of England said: "We are only aware of one student affected. The student is being advised about financial support provided by the University such as short term loans to assist with living costs."

"The whole situation seemed completely unreasonable," said Tsvetomir Dimitrov, a Bulgarian third-year Law student at the University of Northampton. He contacted SFE after a letter from his university stated he may have to begin tuition fee repayments. Both his loans have been frozen, and he was asked to provide bills, bank statements and tax information, he says.

Luckily, his university have been understanding. The University of Northampton said: "This decision was taken by the SLC/SFE and has impacted a small percentage of students at the University of Northampton. The University's Financial Guidance team has worked with students to provide the residency evidence to resolve the matter and reinstate funding."

Second-year Finance and Business Economics student Daniel Cegoreanu said that the situation is "nonsense." He studies at the University of Bournemouth, and says he received an email from SFE asking him to pay back a £1,118 maintenance grant.

"They are making every Romanian and Bulgarian's life horrible," he said.

He has spoken with a university adviser as he is concerned he may be thrown off his course. They have assured him that he is still enrolled, contrary to another SFE email which states he will need to begin repaying his loan. Daniel says SFE appear to be under the impression that he is “no longer studying" and they seem to assume he has withdrawn from his course.

The University of Bournemouth said: "The Finance and Student Enquiry services at BU are aware of the SLC situation but at this point no student has been contacted, asked for funds or withdrawn from their studies."

The Student Loans Company says it has not withdrawn any students from their courses.

It said: "the SLC wrote to all Romanian and Bulgarian students claiming maintenance support asking them for additional information to support their claim of residency in the UK for three years. Payments have been suspended until that information has been provided. As soon as students provide the additional information requested, their funding will be reinstated."

Daniel Stevens, NUS international students officer, has been receiving an influx of emails from worried students. He said: “The lack of communication from the Government to affected students is unacceptable. This situation is disrupting people’s lives and has inevitably led to much confusion. The Government needs to take this situation seriously.”

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