Irish may apply for UK college loans from 2012


STUDENTS FROM the Republic studying, or intending to study, in English universities from 2012 will be able to apply for British government loans to pay for the higher tuition fees planned to come into force by then, it is understood.

Irish and other EU students pay the same tuition fees as British students and are eligible for tuition loans, although they do not qualify for the maintenance loans offered to help with day-to-day living expenses.

The changes to be brought into effect from September 2012 – although they have still to be approved by parliament in London – are, as yet, not fully detailed, but it is expected that rights to tuition loans will continue.

Since the introduction of tuition fees in England from September 2006, the UK Students Loan Company has agreed contracts with individual students, backed up by a willingness to go to court later to force repayment, if necessary.

A European Union regulation, EC 44/2001, allows the loans company to enforce court judgments made in the UK throughout the rest of the EU. Since then, a quarter of EU graduates from English universities stay somewhere in the United Kingdom.

“In their final year, borrowers identified as likely to move abroad will be asked to confirm their final destination and required to sign a repayment agreement if their intention is to move abroad,” the company told The Irish Timesyesterday.

“Borrowers will be obliged to keep the Student Loans Company informed of their whereabouts but the SLC will use international trace agents to find borrowers if need be.” It added that graduates were liable for any costs incurred.

“If an EU borrower persistently refuses to reply to requests for information the SLC will take action in the courts to escalate the whole debt. The borrower will then be subject to existing debt-collection arrangements in their own country.”

Thousands of British students are to protest in London next Wednesday at the decision of the Conservative/Liberal Dem coalition to double – and, in some cases, triple – college fees in England.

“Thousands of students, many of whom will have voted for Liberal Democrats because of their pledge, will be taking to the streets . . . and this is a perfect opportunity for [Liberal Dem leader] Nick Clegg to explain himself,” said National Union of Students leader Aaron Porte. He said Mr Clegg had done precisely the opposite of what he pledged before the election.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, a Scottish MP, said yesterday he would vote against the measure when the House of Commons decided on it later this year. “I think that having signed this campaign pledge, then I feel obliged to keep to it.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister, Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond, who faces elections next May, said he would not follow the “punitive” example set by the London government for Scottish universities, where college-imposed tuition fees on Scottish and EU students – bar those from England – are paid for directly by the Scottish administration.