By Claire West

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts urged students to apply online now for their student loans and grants during a visit to the processing centre in Darlington today. Mr Willetts saw for himself how Student Finance England is getting ready for the busy summer period.

David Willetts said:

“Enrolling at university is an exciting time for students and a very busy time for Student Finance England. Applying as soon as possible will help students avoid unnecessary stress.

“I am here today in Darlington looking at what’s being done to ensure that students and parents don’t suffer a repeat of last year’s unacceptable service.

“Student Finance England is getting ready for the peak processing season, and has put processes in place to ensure the service this summer should be significantly better.

“To be sure of receiving their full entitlement, students and their parents should focus on getting applications completed online and on time.”

As well as the recent changes at Student Finance England to strengthen leadership and improve processing arrangements, investment in new technology is now starting to make the process easier for customers:

·improved links with the Immigration and Passport Service mean that identity can be validated without most customers having to send in passports;

·there is now a more user-friendly online application process;

·students should apply as soon as possible – but we know that things can change – so later this summer there will be a new, simple online process for students to tell SFE their circumstances have changed;

·from next year most parents will no longer need to send in evidence to prove household income as this will be validated directly with HMRC; and

·next year students will have a comprehensive system for tracking the progress of their applications online.

Interim Chairman of the Student Loans Company, Professor Sir Deian Hopkin said:

“The next few days are very important for students as the deadline for applications approaches and we want to encourage them to apply online as quickly as possible to ensure that we can deliver funding to as many students as possible at the start of term this year.

“We are determined to do all we can to avoid the problems of last summer. There is a lot of work going on to implement improvements with the urgency that is needed. We hope that the Minister will come away reassured that we will deliver a good service this year.”

This financial year Student Finance England is expecting to make loans and grants for tuition fees and living costs worth up to £7 billion to up to 1 million students studying at English universities.