It turns out that fake IDs are no longer just for under 18s. The National Audit Office estimates that thousands of young people are now using fake student IDs in order to access cheap loans and grants without actually taking any recognized exams. In 2012-13, alternative higher education providers received £425 million through the Student Loan Company, putting those few beers you asked your older brother to buy into perspective.
Alternative providers were set up following reforms introduced by the former higher education minister David Willetts in 2012, but the statistics surrounding them are far from reformative. Their drop out rate is more than 20% (5 times the national average); and a watchdog identified 2963 students (20% of the total studying HNDs - Higher National Diplomas) who accessed student funding without ever being registered to sit exams. Whats even more worrying is that this figure excluded those who dropped out that year - and so in total these students could have accessed over £50 million.
So how did this misuse of public money slip through the net? The extraordinary rate of expansion of institutions such as the London School of Business and Finance made it hard to keep track of spending; as did the rapid recruitment of foreign students. For example, the NAO found that a group of 5500 students from the EU were unable to prove that they were entitled to government funding, and yet 1000 of those (mainly from Romania and Bulgaria) had managed to claim £5.4 million in student loans before being found out - which is extraordinary given that most students live off Dominoes vouchers and happy hour cocktails (i.e. gin and juice).
It is even more bizarre that Willetts didnt even have the parliamentary powers he needed to hold these colleges to proper account. He couldn't enforce inspection regimes, or demand to see their books, because of lack of support for a new education bill from, of all parties, the Lib Dems - who have a shaky track record when it comes to student finance. The report was actually only prompted by a Guardian investigation into the sector which found that lectures were teaching empty classrooms (which isnt even always a sign of something suspicious!)
Finally, the government have so far only managed to reclaim 7% of the fraudulent money - so take a minute to consider the irony of the Student Loan Company having to take out an overdraft in order to pay back, well, its student loans.