An astonishing £590million of taxpayer-backed loans were granted for students from EU states while the UK was still under Brussels rules in 2020-21. But more than half of the staggering amount is unlikely to be repaid, the Government has conceded.
While a part of the EU, the UK was forced to treat students from the continent in the same way as British students.
It meant that while those attending universities from most of the world could be charged an international levy and would need to find their own funding, those from countries in the EU had access to the student loan system.
They could access loans and grants from the UK Government and pay no more than the £9,250 cap on yearly fees set for domestic applicants.
However, many students left the UK upon completing their education making it hard to chase up payment for the fees.
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In the longer term, the Government will be forced to cough up and cover the unpaid cost.
In 2020-21 – the last year the UK was subjected to Brussels’ rules – there were 153,000 students from the EU at British universities.
Now, students from the bloc can finally be subject to the same requirements to study as those from other parts of the globe.
Former minister David Jones told The Sun: “This is a particularly welcome benefit of Brexit.
“British taxpayers were paying for the education of thousands of foreign students who clearly had no intention of repaying the loans.
“Leaving the EU now enables us to pay for the education and training of thousands of British students, proving how wise we were to vote to leave the EU.”
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International undergraduate tuition fees are often far higher than for domestic students.
They can be as much as £38,000 a year for some degrees such as medicine.
The number of EU students has dropped significantly since Brexit according to official figures.
Data from Ucas, the higher education admissions service, says total EU acceptances have halved.
The number of confirmed places for the 2021 academic year was down 56 percent to 12,920.
Meanwhile the number of acceptances for non-EU international students rose by five percent to 46,610.
The only exceptions appeared to be Northern Ireland’s two main institutions: Queen’s University Belfast, and Ulster University.
Still bound by EU rules due to the Northern Ireland Protocol, those attending the places of study in the province from the continent still have access to the UK loans system.