Database boob may delay loan payments

March 31, 2000

The Student Loans Company is set to repeat last year's fiasco in which a botched database threatened to delay loan cheques for thousands of students.

Last week, the company was due to issue local education authorities with a database of colleges and courses that the LEAs would use to identify which students entering in the autumn would be eligible for a loan.

However, the database will not be issued until the week after next at the earliest, according to a civil servant at the Department for Education and Employment. The delay could cause further hold-ups later in the year.

"I am aware of the slight risk to the deadlines that we have set and, with that in mind, we are looking at them to see if there are any adjustments we might make," stated a letter from the DFEE to LEA student support administrators.

The Student Loans Company issued a statement that said: "We had originally advised that the first issue of the database to LEAs was expected to take place on March 20. This was subject to us establishing effective testing arrangements and to assumptions about the timing and quality of returns from higher education institutions.

"In the event, the testing programme will take longer than originally planned. As a result of this, it has proven impossible to deliver the first issue on this date. It has been decided to issue the first release of the database on April 10. Increasing numbers of returns are now being received from HEIs and successfully validated and we are on course to achieve this date."

In the meantime, LEAs have been told not to use the current codes since some may differ from this year. Instead, staff should print the name of the university or college and the course on the form and leave the code boxes blank.

An SLC spokeswoman said: "The data held in the database does not affect the capability of LEAs to process applications at this stage. Many LEAs have already sent out notifications to students."

Problems with the same database last year forced some LEAs to contract work out overseas in order to meet deadlines. Dozens of institutions and courses had been omitted.

The database includes some 600 institutions offering more than 60,000 courses. It has been enhanced since last year, after discussions with universities and colleges, LEAs and software suppliers.

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