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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
EU student fee dodgers targeted
Students attending lecture
Students will have to sign an agreement to repay fees loans
The government is moving to stop students from the rest of the EU attending an English university then disappearing without paying the fees.

A loophole arises from the change to "deferred fees" from September.

So EU graduates will have to sign an agreement on repaying the loans for their fees once their earnings reach a certain level, which varies by country.

The government says defaulters will be pursued - if necessary by "trace agents". The Tories ridiculed the idea.

Changes

At present the 1,175 fee has to be paid in advance.

Fees will, in most English universities, go up to 3,000 a year from September.

They are still due to the university in advance - so it gets the income - but students can get an official loan to cover them, which is why the government describes them as deferred fees.

This loan then will become repayable only after people have graduated and are earning more than 15,000 a year.

Under EU rules, students from any member country are entitled to the same help with fees as those in the "home" nation. Other, non-EU students typically pay much higher fees.

Variations

A spokesman for the Student Loans Company said it did not expect many students to run off.

"But we live in the real world and we know some will," he said.

"The system will put the onus back on the customer, rather than the employer making monthly deductions."

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said overseas students were welcome but it was right that those who could contribute to the costs should do so.

Collecting payments

"I am confident that the plans we are outlining today will ensure that we have an effective system of monitoring and collecting payments," he said.

But his Tory shadow, Boris Johnson, said: "We have got the ludicrous spectacle of British agents stepping up dusty drives in Italy 25 years later to find people who have failed to pay back the loans they owe Her Majesty's Government," he said.

"It is complete baloney."

The government is setting different repayment thresholds for people from different countries, in recognition of different living costs and earnings.

The thresholds are:

  • 6,000 - Czech Rep, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey
  • 9,000 - Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia
  • 12,000 - Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Spain, USA
  • 15,000 - (UK level): Austria, Belgium. Finland, France, Germany. Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Japan
  • 18,000 - Denmark, Norway, Switzerland

The education department said that currently about 25% of students from the EU stayed in Britain after completing a university course.

There has been a marked rise in the numbers of EU students coming to the UK in recent years, especially from the "accession" countries.

For entry this autumn, latest figures show the number of applicants from the EU, outside the UK and Ireland, was up by 12.1% to more than 15,000.

Over three years their debts would total about 135m.

This surge in demand compares with a 4% fall in the number of English students applying to English universities.


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