Byline: Tony Collins
Weeks into the start of term and thousands of students are struggling through university life without the financial support they need. After severe delays by the Student Loans Company in issuing grants, Midland universities have now been forced to step in and provide financial help to those most in need. The Student Loans Company, established to provide financial services to more than one million students in colleges and universities across the UK, has been coming under fire after failing to meet its obligations fully.
This week it was still processing 23,000 applications and 13,000 maintenance applicants. A further 34,000 students have been asked to provide further information.
An official inquiry has been launched into the delays in issuing loans and maintenance grants, needed to pay for everything from food and rent to materials, which the Student Loans Company has blamed on technical problems and an increase in applications from undergraduates looking to escape the recession.
The University of Birmingham is one of those which has acted to ensure that none of its students is forced to leave degree courses because of financial problems. It has set up an emergency loan fund to assist those students affected by the delays.
The problem is being felt more intensely by the university's Guild of Students.
Johnny Davis, the guild's vicepresident (welfare), said: "I'm really disappointed with the situation that the Student Loans Company has placed students in.
"Late student loans inevitably result in financial difficulty and anxiety for students at the university. Our Advice &Representation Centre has ensured that students know where they need to go for support from the university, who are addressing the financial issues that some students are struggling with."
The Student Loans Company is continuing to reassure applicants that it is working hard to get students their money and apologises to those who have experienced difficulties with their applications. But that cuts little ice with the region's universities.
Jon Elsmore, Dean of Students at the University of Wolverhampton, said: "The university has been disappointed about the service levels that students have experienced from Student Finance England and the Student Loans Company.
"Our students have made us very aware of the anxiety and frustration these delays have caused and other problems encountered, including being repeatedly asked to re-send information that had previously been supplied, long waits to get through to an adviser on the telephone and information that has been 'lost' in the system."
Mr Elsmore said the loan companies had acknowledged the problems and frustrations that students had faced, and the university was pleased with reports of additional actions being taken to reduce the backlog.
"The university has been advising students carefully to enrol on time with us and to pursue details of their application for student financial support. Where some students have clearly been struggling with their finances, the university has continued to offer emergency loans, prioritising new students. …