Over 12,000 European Union (EU) graduates have “disappeared” after studying at British universities, leaving £89 million of debt unpaid.
In recent years, the number of EU students who study at British universities before returning home and failing to repay their student loans has increased sharply.
This number is only likely to increase as tuition fees rise and the number of EU students also goes up. Last year, the government removed controls on the number of foreign students allowed to study at British universities.
Since 2006 EU students studying undergraduate courses at British universities have been able to take out student loans like British students. However, the official Student Loans Company (SLC) has a poor track record in chasing students who leave Britain, thus leaving millions of pounds of debt unpaid.
The Times reports that figures from a Freedom of Information Request show the number of EU students refusing to pay back their debts is rising.
Six years ago some 5,000 EU student were “missing”, owing a total of around £25 million. Last year the figure was 12,314 with £89 million of debts unpaid.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “Student loans are incredibly hard to get back from people who have left the UK. The problem is getting worse because the removal of student number controls provides a new incentive to recruit students from other EU countries.
“They are now among the fastest growing groups of students. Previously EU students displaced UK students; now they bring £9,000 of their own, which is underwritten by UK taxpayers.
“The challenge of recovering loans is present in all countries with loan-based student support systems. But some countries, notably New Zealand, do a lot more to tackle it. If a visitor back to New Zealand is not up to date with their student loan repayments, they can be arrested at the border.”
Figures in March showed that at least 1.6 million EU migrants had arrived in the UK in the last decade, a figure greater than the combined populations of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
Separate UN figures also showed there were 2.9 million EU citizens living in the UK, underlining the weak border controls Britain has while it remains within the EU.