HongKong

Service with a smile – Student Loans Company adopts ‘friendly, librarian style’ amid interest-rate fears



The Student Loans Company (SLC) is considering recommendations by customers that it change the tone of its correspondence with graduates, including the suggestion that it should adopt the manner of a “friendly librarian”.

It was also suggested that the public body, which has contact with 8 million people in the UK every year, should wish students good luck with their education.

A spokesperson for the SLC, which is trying to improve its “customer experience”, said the ideas were being “broadly considered”. But such a move could prove controversial, with interest rates on student loans set to soar this year as part of a wider cost of living crisis.

The highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank has warned that students and graduates in England could pay up to 12 per cent interest on their loans this autumn.

The recommendations follow feedback from a customer panel set up by the body, which suggested that the current tone of the SLC’s communications felt distant and “missed personal touches, such as wishing students luck in their studies”.

The minutes of a recent SLC board meeting report that the panel thought the tone should instead aspire “to be akin to a helpful, friendly librarian”.

The board was also told recently that improving the experience of customers was one of education minister Michelle Donelan’s top priorities.

The SLC approves around 2 million applications for student finance every year. But overall the company talks to roughly 8 million people a year, including those who are in the process of repaying their loans.

There has been a flurry of warnings in recent days of the effect the current crisis will have on living standards in the UK.

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Earlier this week, inflation hit a 40-year high, and the governor of the Bank of England sounded a warning over “apocalyptic” food shortages that may be imminent as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said: “Students need more than just a tone change; they need urgent support on student loans. Amidst a cost of living crisis, it’s simply unfathomable that the maximum interest rate on student loans will be increasing to 12 per cent later this year.

“This is brutal, and will deter thousands of students from going to university. It will also cause unparalleled uncertainty for the millions of graduates already repaying their loans, with thousands of pounds added to their debt sheet.”

She added: “Students aren’t cash cows, and we can’t keep taking the brunt of this government’s regressive actions that have left millions exposed to hardship. Education is a right for all, not a product that can be bought and sold for individual gain.”

The SLC is understood to be keen to ensure that its communications are straightforward and easy for customers to engage with. Sources suggested that the company seeks to engage in a constant process of improvement.

The SLC is technically a non-departmental public body, and is owned mainly by the Department for Education.



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