Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Students still hit by loan delays

By Angela Harrison
BBC News education reporter

Universities say they are trying to minimise the impact of delays

Thousands of students from England are still waiting for loans and grants because of delays in the processing of their applications.

As the first university term draws to an end, figures released by the Student Loans Company (SLC) suggest thousands are still caught in the backlog.

Frustrated students continue to e-mail the BBC News website, some saying they have quit or will have to quit.

The SLC says it is processing applications as quickly as possible.

The results of an inquiry into the delays are due to be published before Christmas.

It is understood the report has been given to England's Education Minister David Lammy.

Universities say they are unhappy that the problems are continuing.

Since the problems emerged the SLC has been posting figures on its website on how applications are progressing.

'Further information'

The figures are complex, partly because students can apply for loans and grants up to nine months after their courses start and many applications, for various reasons, are not pursued.

But data released on Thursday, covering the period up to 29 November, showed 35,000 applications had still to be processed.

Of these, 25,000 are said to "require further information from students or sponsors".

I have reached my overdraft limit and have been struggling to feed myself! I knew there was nothing more I could do than to pull out of the course
Shelly, Colchester, Essex

Another 19,000 have so far been given only what is called an interim assessment.

They received their basic entitlement to a loan to cover their tuition fees - but not other means-tested loans and grants such as those for childcare or to support people with disabilities.

Many of the e-mails still being received by the BBC News website are from people who have applied for help with childcare.

Some say their documents have been lost or that, despite having applied early in the year, they were told only in August or September that they had not supplied all the relevant documents.

Applications dropped

Figures on the number of applications "withdrawn" are up dramatically, even taking into account the 10% increase in people applying to university for this year.

The SLC and university bodies say there is always a large number of people who apply for a university place and funding but then fail to take up a place.

They say it is not possible to say whether delays in payments have affected this figure.

Out of a total number of 1,001,000 applications, 49,000 were withdrawn before being approved or the applicant was found to be "ineligible".

Last year, out of a total of 925,000 applications, 21,000 were withdrawn in the same way.

However, the number of applications withdrawn after being approved halved this year to 6,000, according to the SLC.

'More paid out'

Its chief executive, Ralph Seymour-Jackson, said: "We have paid more than 99% of all students who are eligible for payment at this point and continue to process applications as swiftly as possible.

"We have paid out over £75m more than this time last year.

"We continue to receive large volumes of applications every day - 6,000 in the last two weeks - but we recognise that there have been issues with processing and we are working hard to ensure that this does not happen again next year."

The worry for the government is that the ongoing delays will affect students who are now applying to study at university next autumn.

The executive director of the 1994 group of research-intensive universities, Paul Marshall, says universities remain very concerned and have been pressing the government about the situation.

"Students should not suffer in silence," he said.

"If they have got a problem they need to get to their local student union, and on to university welfare officers so that they can get help."

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