New UK Student Loans Company head steers for calmer waters

Paula Sussex prioritises improving communication and technology

October 14, 2019
Paula Sussex

The chief executive of the UK’s Student Loans Company has said that she “doesn’t recognise” the reputation that the scandal-hit organisation has carried in recent years.

Paula Sussex joined the organisation, which administers the country’s £100 billion student loan book, in 2018, after her predecessor, Steve Lamey, was dismissed for gross misconduct in public office. He was found to have failed to protect a potential whistleblower and to have been responsible for a “failure in leadership”. Not long after, Times Higher Education revealed that the SLC had awarded compensation worth more than £70,000 over two years to students who had suffered financial hardship or inconvenience as a result of errors in payments.

Ms Sussex has now launched a three-year strategy to improve governance and customer service, and also aims to make the organisation a better place to work.

She told Times Higher Education that she “felt privileged” to lead the company but recognised that “we all want it to be better”. For example, “it could be better certainly for the more complex of our customer enquiries”, she said.

One of the main ways to do this will be to “seriously focus” on technology, which had been historically underdeveloped at the organisation, Ms Sussex said. The SLC now has a customer base who “don’t expect to be sitting on the phone”, she said. “So we’re looking at using software technology they would recognise, such as web chats.”

Earlier this year, it emerged that more than £28 million of overpayments by graduates on their student loans made between 2009-10 and 2017-18 had not been paid back. Payments are supposed to stop when a loan is fully repaid, but, in a number of cases, they continued.

According to Ms Sussex, the upgrading of technology will tackle this “because it can help significantly with the timeliness of data exchange between ourselves and [HM Revenue and Customs]”.

“We’ve been working really well together [with HMRC] to come up with a much more accurate system and much more accurate statement,” she said.

Another priority for Ms Sussex is to improve communication with customers and the public to show that the SLC performs strongly for the “majority of its customers”.

The SLC’s strategy points out that two recent reports – the Augar review of post-18 education funding in England, and a review of the SLC itself – have stated that communication and the “language of loans and debt” could be improved to reflect the unique nature of income-contingent repayments.

These changes include the potential to rename Ms Sussex’s organisation. Although she emphasised that the nomenclature of the wider funding system was not within her remit, she said “it does strike me that our very name, Student Loans Company, is not as accurate as it could be”.

The SLC is also facing “political and economic uncertainties”, including the post-18 review’s recommendation that tuition fees be reduced to £7,500 a year, Brexit, a general election that could potentially herald the scrapping of fees altogether, and a possible Scottish independence referendum, according to the strategy.

“We do have contingency plans for whatever the world could throw at us,” Ms Sussex said. “You always have to be able to correct course. Of course, we would like it to be plain sailing for a few years, but that won’t necessarily be the case.”

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Reader's comments (1)

What about calmer waters? SLC is covering a fraud for years, a Ponzi Scheme well known to the stakeholders involved. SLC cover up Pearson fraudulent practices for years. Qualifications with no value( designed by Pearson as old non regulated provisions ) are sold to students as subdegree in order to access public funding. At the very end, when the students are ending up with awards matching old non regulated provisions ,it is to late.No academic credentials,no progression. Therefore,Mrs Paula Sussex,I will personally adress her an email should do something more than showing off. It is a coruption within higher education institutions up to the highest levels,not only SLC.; DFE,QFQUAL,QAA ....all play a blind eye because it is a Ponzi scheme and a Ponzi scheme is cleverly designed before being aproved.


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