Student Loan Fraud: Who’s to Blame?

In a recent documentary by BBC’s Panorama, Student Loan Scandal, experts explained how millions of pounds go to waste on fraudulent students in the UK every year.

The government’s push for expansion in higher education, without regulation, has largely resulted in this loss of control over who receives a student loan.

A November article in the Plymouth Herald exposed such a scandal attached to Plymouth University, raising the question of similar practices associated with other universities across the country. Fraudulent practices in applications for student loans and tuition fee payments are costing taxpayers millions of pounds and undermining the hard work of legitimate students who struggle to attain their degrees.

As King’s students, we have all gone through the painstaking process of applying through UCAS and patiently awaiting our grades to determine whether or not we can attend our first choice university. However, university is not the only path available to pursue higher education.

Over the past few years, the British government has been supporting private colleges as alternative providers of higher education, in academic partnership with actual universities. Their students often come from low-income households or underprivileged backgrounds, since private colleges can be a cheaper, faster and more realistic way of obtaining a degree.

Nonetheless, several cases of under-qualified students obtaining degrees have been unearthed. According to Panorama, recruiters at private colleges have been targeting students without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications, and offering them help with applications for student loans for cash-in-hand fees. This ‘help’ often consists of forging false qualifications and reference letters. Some recruiters even offer to tamper with attendance records and to put students in touch with essay-writing companies to complete their assignments. Students with GCSEs and BTECs who have not passed their A-levels get a free pass to higher education through these recruiters, who are known, and often work with, private colleges. It is hard to determine to what extent universities and colleges are themselves involved in these scams, but several actors are complicit in undermining the system.

This new practice is a way for under-qualified students to get a ‘free’ degree without the hard work usually involved, and is putting money straight into the pocket of recruiters who take a cut from the loans they secure for their ‘customers’. This also gives the illusion of a rise in participants in higher education, allowing the government to boast reaching their target of getting more people into universities.

In a system in which student debt has reached 100 billion pounds and where a quarter of graduates may never pay back their loans in full, can we really afford to leave the door open to fraud?

Increased accessibility to higher education and the rise in university graduates are important steps towards social mobility and equality; but for equal opportunity to be truly achieved, higher education needs to be obtained through legitimate and official channels.