From a 3 years to a 5 years residency requirement for EU citizens who are not British nationals

Regarding living cost support for Higher Education in England

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The UK Government has now decided to increase the residency requirement from three years to five years for EU nationals before they may claim living cost support for Higher Education, starting in the academic year 2016/17 (Government response to the consultation on extending the eligibility criteria for access to Higher Education student living cost support for EU nationals).

The financial rationale for considering this change is the increasing numbers of EU national students accessing student support so as to be able to study in England. The trend is for an increasing number of EU domiciled students to receive tuition fee loans. 8,200 full-time EU domiciled entrants received tuition fee loans for the 2006/07 academic year. This compares with 14,800 full-time EU domiciled entrants receiving tuition fee loans in academic year 2014/15. This continuing increase in EU domiciled students coming to England to study has led to a total of 37,200 EU domiciled students (entrants and continuing students) receiving tuition fee support in academic year 2014/15 up from 31,700 in 2011/12.

Moreover, the average maintenance support paid to EU nationals is higher than those paid to UK nationals. In part this is because nearly half of EU nationals accessing support are aged 25 and over and therefore more likely to be assessed as independent and not have parental income taken into account. This compares with around 13% of the overall HE population.

Finally, it is more difficult to collect loans from EU borrowers as they have a greater tendency than UK nationals to move overseas after graduation. Of the 9,900 EU domiciled tuition fee borrowers who should have started repaying their loans in 2013, 29% had either fully repaid or were over the earnings threshold and had made a repayment towards their loans. This is compared with 50% across all domiciles. Collecting debt from ex-students who have moved overseas is more problematic because of the difficulty of tracing students, identifying their income and a reduced ability to take enforcement action to ensure repayments or seize assets.

The number of EU nationals claiming living cost support has also increased substantially. In academic year 2009/10 there were around 11,600 EU nationals who received living cost support at a cost of £75m. This has risen to around 31,500 awards in academic year 2014/15 amounting to £240m – an increase of 220%.

The UK Government considers that the case for extending the residency requirement to five years for EU nationals remains reasonable, and states that Article 24 (2) of Directive 2004/38 allows for EU Member States to apply separate residency criteria relating to access to living cost support.

The policy change is intended to apply only to undergraduates, not postgraduates. Moreover, EU citizens will still have access to tuition fee loans at home fee rates (p. 6).

Last but not least, the Government declares p. 12: “The three year ordinary lawful residence rule for UK nationals has been in place since 1962. […] the Government has no intention to extend the residency requirement to UK nationals”. One may wonder whether the Court of Justice of the European Union will approve this difference of treatment.

(Altalex, 23 May 2016. Article by Emmanuel Guinchard)

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