Sunday, 13 September 2009

Students face loans chaos

Students face loans chaos

That’s the frontpage headline in today’s Times, which reports:

Tens of thousands of students could start the academic year with no funding and unable to register at university because the loans company is in crisis and struggling to cope with a deluge of applications.

Weeks before the start of term, 150,000 applications out of almost a million still have not been processed.”

If only someone had had the sense to see this problem coming – well they had!

As long as 7 months ago, Birkdale’s Councillor Simon Shaw, and Southport MP John Pugh were voicing their serious concerns about the Government’s decision to centralize student finance applications from September 2009. Unlike previous years, where students applied through their local council, from this year students have to apply direct to the Student Loan Company via a national call centre.

Simon warned of ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ when he first spoke out at a meeting of Sefton’s Scrutiny Committee for Education and Children’s Services held on 10 February 2009. This is what he said then:

“I am concerned that this change is a big mistake. Many people have experiences of centralized government operations going seriously wrong – problems over the last 5 years with the tax credit system being the obvious example.”

“More recently, in recent months many young people have encountered serious difficulties in claiming Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The government’s track record with these centralized IT-based operations is far from good. I am worried that this could be another disaster waiting to happen.”

Simon also warned then about the problems of dealing with a remote bureaucracy.

“Now the only contact will be with a call centre 150 miles away. One of the biggest concerns is in relation to vulnerable students. How many of those are going to be discouraged from going into higher education through having to deal with a remote bureaucracy?”

As Southport MP John Pugh commented in February to the local press: “I am concerned that this will be yet another example of government-inspired ‘improvements’ which prove to be exactly the opposite.”

This was reported on the Birkdale FOCUS Blog last February: