Scots bid to avoid fiasco

May 15, 1998

SCOTTISH education minister Brian Wilson is putting an extra Pounds 380,000 into the Student Awards Agency for Scotland to prevent a repetition of last autumn's fiasco, which left thousands of further and higher education students waiting months for grant cheques.

This week Mr Wilson accepted the recommendations of a review he set up in January. Staffing will be boosted, particularly in the peak months between May and October, and the processing system will be reformed. Upgraded software will identify students on courses that start early so their applications can be prioritised.

The review committee, chaired by Gerald Wilson, secretary of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department, included representatives from universities, colleges, the National Union of Students Scotland and banks. It concluded that problems arose from a new computer system, which led to delays in processing applications. There were not enough staff to handle the volume of applications or to to deal with inquiries about the delays.

Mr Wilson blamed the previous government for the problems. "The SAAS had suffered cutbacks in staff. You cannot pile on student numbers without making the necessary arrangements," he said.

Shamin Akhtar, president of NUS Scotland, urged that the review committee continue monitoring the agency.

Mr Wilson said students also had a part to play. "It would be a great help if students would fill in the forms more accurately. Among these future guardians of our educational standards are some who have had their forms sent back three or four times."

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