UCAS bids for loans job

January 30, 1998

THE Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is bidding to take over the management of student support. It told the House of Commons education and employment committee it is ideally placed to act as a "one-stop shop" for students to apply to and finance their way through higher education.

It already has the necessary infrastructure and computer systems to take over the role of the Student Loans Company, it said in a paper to the committee last week.

UCAS would then be in a prime position to take on the function of a Student Support Agency as proposed by the Dearing committee. The government has said it will review its new student support system and consider setting up an SSA in two years' time.

Tony Higgins, UCAS chief executive, told The THES this week that UCAS wanted the SSA contract and was well placed to get it. "In our favour is the fact that we see our role as serving institutions and students equally," he said.

The paper says a new government-backed student profiling project taken on by UCAS could provide secure electronic records of achievement linked to a continuing record of each student's loan entitlement and repayment details.

It reveals that UCAS is already heavily involved in talks between the government and the financial services sector over creating Individual Lifelong Learning Accounts to enable students to save, borrow and attract investment from employers to support lifelong learning. UCAS has been invited by Kim Howells, the lifelong learning minister, to meet his officials and representatives from Microsoft.

The paper also reveals that when the previous government announced its intention to privatise loans, UCAS began "serious discussions" with Barclays Bank about collaborating to offer a new loans service.

UCAS says it already collects and holds much of the information required to issue loans. Data for loans could be processed within 24 hours using the same technology as a new electronic application system is being introduced.

"The use of UCAS, an existing central higher education organisation, would greatly reduce both set- up and running costs for any new system and would avoid both duplication of existing databases and the reinvention of the wheel," the paper says.

Colin Ward, chief executive of the Student Loans Company, said the paper failed to recognise the bulk of the loans work, which involved maintaining customer accounts and collecting money owed.

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