Loans process ‘putting off learners’

Fears have been raised that a lengthy application process for FE loans could be putting people off starting courses.

worrying conversion rate”

David Hughes (pictured top), chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), claimed there was a “worrying conversion rate” between the number of students offered 24+ advanced learning loans and those who took up the offer and started courses.

He told FE Week this could have been caused by slow processing of loans — an issue the Student Loans Company (SLC) said had “improved”.

Mr Hughes pointed to government figures published last year that showed there had been 52,468 loan applications up to the end of October — of which 39,043 were ready for payment by that point.
But just 25,200 loans were taken out by the end of October, according to provisional figures from the latest Statistical First Release (SFR).

It indicated that only 65 per cent of potential learners offered loans had taken up the offer and started their courses by the end of October.

Mr Hughes said: “The longer loans take to be processed, the more likely people are to miss the start of their course or even change their mind over starting altogether.
“It is probably one of the reasons why there is a worrying conversion rate from those who have applied for loans and those taking up courses.”

Meanwhile, the most recent figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (published last month) showed 57,181 loan applications had been lodged by the end of December — of which 20 per cent were not ready for payment.

A spokesperson for the SLC claimed its processing rate had improved since the end of December — with 77.5 per cent of 61,935 loan applications received by February 2 being processed.
She said: “These figures demonstrate that SLC continues to efficiently process applications for funding.

“If a customer has been asked to provide evidence to support their application they are advised to send in their evidence as soon as possible to allow us to complete their application and prevent any delays.”

Christine Doubleday (pictured centre), deputy executive director of the 157 Group, said: “The ongoing lag in the readiness of payments is clearly worrying.

“Concerns raised earlier in the year are not being rectified quickly enough.

“Behind the statistics lie significant numbers of people who are either unable to start their learning or trying to do so on very little money.”
Shadow Skills Minister Liam Byrne (pictured right) said: “It is vital that people who miss out the first time [on education] get a chance to gain skills and qualifications.

“But the government is letting these people down. Ministers must tell us why these loan applications are not being dealt with quickly enough.”

A spokesperson for BIS declined to comment.