Bulgarian and Romanian higher education students in East and South London face financial insecurity after the government decided to suspend all forms of support for maintenance loan applicants last month.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced at the end of November that they were going to freeze maintenance loans after what they deemed a “significant increase” in applications from Bulgarian and Romanian higher education students.
In the UK, around 5,500 Bulgarian and Romanian students receiving the loan have been affected.
Maintenance loans are only available for students who have lived in the UK for three years prior to the beginning of their course. For those receiving maintenance loans, this measure will also mean their tuition fee loan will be suspended whilst checks are being carried out.
One of the students affected is Bulgarian second-year student Dayana Atanasova, 19, from Goldsmiths College.
Atanasova, who lived in the UK for the required three years before beginning her course, said she was shocked to find that she had been unwillingly withdrawn from her course: “I hadn’t been contacted. I only found out because I checked my application – I only did it because I wanted to find out when the next instalment of my loan was going to reach me.”
Atanasova added: “The next day, I received what looked like an auto-generated email from Student Finance telling me I’d been withdrawn from my course and I had to start repaying in 2016.”
The BIS claims to have written to all students affected, however many may still not be aware that they will not receive the next instalment of their loan in January, leaving them unable to pay rent.
BIS said the payments will be reinstated as soon as students provide additional information proving how long they have lived in the country.
Atasanova does not believe Goldsmiths is responsible for the incident.
A University spokesperson said: “Goldsmiths was not informed of this action in advance by Student Finance England. We will be doing everything possible to assist and support all affected students.”
The University is now helping the student to be re-instated.
The measure comes shortly before the restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigration are to be dropped on January 1.
A Bulgarian Embassy spokesperson said: “The Embassy has reacted firmly against the decision about the suspension of student support payments to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals because even though the measure has a temporary nature it represents a negative selection only for Bulgarian and Romanian students.”
BIS has since rectified its focus on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals saying: “We have asked all EU citizens applying for maintenance support to supply this additional information.”
Shambhavi Bhat, International Officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, commented: “This is a purely rhetorical move on the run-up to January, a quick way to show that the government is taking action, but they haven’t thought the process through.”
The National Union of Students has also expressed concern for the lack of communication with the students, which they believe has caused “much confusion.”
Daniel Stevens, NUS international students officer said: “It is incredibly unfair to target groups of students by cutting them off and asking them to provide three years’ worth of evidence at such short notice.”
Atasanova also said: “The Student Loan Company never asked me to provide evidence of having lived here for more than three years, they only asked me to prove my parents’ financial situation. They only asked ‘When did you first arrive?’ And that was it.”