Student Finance England

11 September 2023

Student finance rules are changing from 2025. In this blog, you can read about the eligibility of refugees who could not access student finance due to the Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) rule and how STAR and partner organisations have called for the removal of this unfair rule.

The government has announced that the restrictive Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) rule will be removed in 2025 when the new Lifelong Loan Entitlement is introduced.

What is the ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualification) rule?

In September 2007, the government announced that it would no longer provide public funding for Home/EU students studying for a qualification that is equivalent to, or of a lower level than, one that the student already holds. This means that if you already have a first degree (e.g. BA, BSc) and wish to study for another undergraduate degree, you cannot currently access a student loan to fund your studies – even if your previous qualification was completed overseas. This rule puts refugees who wish to requalify or need to restart their studies in the UK in a marginalised and disadvantaged position.

Case study: A student was trafficked to the UK and this experience influenced her decision to study law in the UK, in the hope that she might one day be able to support other survivors of trafficking. She gained a sanctuary scholarship to study at university in the UK but as soon as she received her refugee status, she was no longer eligible for the scholarship. She was also unable to access student finance as she had a previous degree in literature from her home country. Fortunately, she was able to access private charitable funding to pay her course fees to allow her to continue with her studies, but she has faced intense financial pressure and hardship as she struggles to combine full-time study with working to cover her accommodation and living expenses.

What is changing?

Last year, STAR, in collaboration with the Refugee Council and Refugee Education UK, wrote to the government about how the ELQ rule has unfairly banned refugees from continuing their studies in the UK by presenting case studies from refugee students who encountered huge barriers to pursuing their education because of this rule. Since refugees come here out of necessity rather than choice, we argued they should be eligible to access funding for their higher education.

From 2025, under the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, refugee students will have access to government funding for equivalent qualifications that they already hold. Even though this change will not take place immediately, this is a big step forward, as the rule has had a damaging impact on refugees’ ability to integrate and build new lives here. Removing the ELQ rule will give more refugees the chance to access further and higher education. This will help them gain new skills and qualifications so they can support themselves and have Equal Access to higher education. Their presence at universities also contribute to bringing a more inclusive and diverse environment.

There is still work to be done to ensure the new system is fair and accessible. We’ll be monitoring the situation closely with our partners. But this is very welcome news for refugees wanting to study in the UK.

We are pleased the government listened to the concerns we jointly raised. Our advocacy was done in partnership with the Refugee Council and Refugee Education UK, which shows the power of collaboration for better change. We also want to show our gratitude to refugee students for sharing their stories with us.

To find out more about access to student finance in the UK, check GOV.UK and the UKCISA website.

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