Students hit by grants delay
HUNDREDS of Suffolk students have been left struggling for cash after the county council failed to process their grant applications in time.Although 68% of the 8,800 students who applied have been sent cheques - 9% more than last year - the county has had to rely on the help of other local education authorities to clear the backlog.
By Graham Dines
HUNDREDS of Suffolk students have been left struggling for cash after the county council failed to process their grant applications in time.
Although 68% of the 8,800 students who applied have been sent cheques - 9% more than last year - the county has had to rely on the help of other local education authorities to clear the backlog.
Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said the situation was “simply unacceptable” after he received the information in a written House of Commons reply from Bill Rammell, the minister in charge of higher and further education at the Department for Education and Skills.
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“I am staggered that so many students entered this vital stage of their academic career with a question mark hanging over their finances for no other reason that Suffolk local education authority had failed to process their applications,” Mr Ruffley said.
“Starting university is a very stressful time for both students and parents and to enter a new environment unsure of your finances can only make matters worse.
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“The minister tells me other local authorities had to be called in to provide assistance in order to help with the timely processing of their applications.
“I think Suffolk students deserve better than this. During the same period, Staffordshire received more than 14,200 applications and managed to process 89% of these by September 16.”
Mr Ruffley said that if Staffordshire could do this, it was extraordinary that Suffolk could not.
He is seeking assurances from Education and Skills Secretary Ruth Kelly and Suffolk's Acting Director of Learning David Thornton that Suffolk will perform better “to ensure the timely payment of grants and loans for the start of the 2006 academic year.”
Sue Sida-Lockett, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for customer services and efficiencies, conceded there had been failures within the system but promised an effective response next year.
She said: “We have dealt with all the complaints that came through at the early stages of the process and as of now we have no backlog of applications.
“We accept that the system was severely stretched by the level of demand over the summer period but we dealt with it by employing extra staff to deal with queries from the public. We have also had assistance from other local authorities in making assessments.
“One of the difficulties we have had this year is a high number of forms that were incomplete or incorrectly filled out or did not have the supporting evidence and needed to be returned to the student before we could complete the assessment.
“We have received a total of over 9,000 applications for student support. Of these 95% have been processed and the remaining applications have either been received in the last six weeks or we are awaiting further information from the student.
“We are reviewing the process and systems within the Student support service to ensure that we can respond effectively to the demands in 2006.”