Many thousands of students across the country are still waiting for their student finance applications to be processed.
The Student Loans Company has received a record number of requests for loans this year, a 16% increase on 2008, and has been unable to process them in time for the start of many universities’ academic years.
One Magdalen College second year explained, “I will not be receiving my student loan until January, and I think it’s appalling. I am fortunate enough to be able to live of savings until then, but it’s such a pain to have to have to re-organise my finances. I can’t imagine how disruptive it must be for those who have to find other means.”
Niall Igoe, a St Anne’s student whose loan wasn’t paid until Christmas last year added, “they do seem ridiculously disorganised”.
A spokeswoman for the SLC told Cherwell, “This year we have received a record number of applications and calls and an unprecedented number of late applications – 120,000 over a four week period. However, already more than 750,000 students have had their applications for funding approved.”
She further explained, “We have put in place a number of measures for students to follow the progress of their applications and to address the problems some people have had trying to get through to our customer advisers. These include additional telephone lines, additional staff and directing customers to the website to find answers to common queries.”
Ralph Seymour-Jackson, chief executive of the SLC, apologised to those affected saying, “The problems with phone lines are real. We’re not pretending any different. Students are struggling to get through and we can’t pretend otherwise. For that we apologise unreservedly and ask people to use the website as much as they can.”
He claimed that an unprecedented rise in late applications, caused in part by the recession, had caused the delays. He said, “We are telling out staff they can have all the overtime they want. But the applications are unprecedented.”
Wes Streeting, the President of the National Union of Students, has strongly criticised the SLC for the problems, “I’m absolutely furious at the bizarre claim of the head of Student Finance England, Ralph Seymour-Jackson, that delays to the payment of loans to 50,000 students are ‘reasonable’.
“Tell that to the students I’ve spoken to who are panicking about how to pay rent, pay bills and pay for food. He must have been speaking live from Cloud Cuckoo Land!”
OUSU President Stefan Baskerville has been working to ensure that Oxford students will not struggle until late loans arrive. He commented, “OUSU has been in contact with the University Funding Office and has advised common room presidents on the situation. Some students may begin term short of funding for reasons outside of their own control, and will be looking to colleges for support and assistance. Colleges should be sensitive to the difficulties that some students will face, and flexible with regard to battels payments until full funding comes through.”
Pauline Linières-Hartley, Wadham College Bursar, confirmed that the college was ready to respond to loan delays, “Students have been asked to let us know if they are having problems so that we can arrange deferral of payment where this is necessary.”
Chris Wigg, treasurer at St Anne’s College offered a similar response, “If a student is relying on a student loan for funding and has applied properly and timely but has not received the loan due to problems with the loan company, then of course we will make allowance for this in settlement of college accounts.”
This is the first year that the SLC has handled applications directly. Previously they were handled by local authorities. David Willetts, the Conservative shadow skills secretary, pointed out that the new system “did not appear to be working properly”.