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Improvements To Student Loan Processing

Maharey Outlines Improvements To Student Loan Processing

A six-million dollar package of improvements to the student loans and allowances processing system, was announced this afternoon by Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey. Specific performance targets for the Department of Work and Income (DWI) to achieve this coming summer were also released.

Following problems with loans processing earlier this year which badly affected students and tertiary providers, Mr Maharey commissioned an independent evaluation of the system to determine what caused the delays and what improvements need to be made in time for the next academic year.

The package of decisions now agreed to by the Cabinet provides funding to improve staffing levels and waiting times on the Student Services 0800 phone line and to provide limited networked on-campus services to students at 34 campus locations nationwide.

Mr Maharey said that previous National government had failed to ensure DWI was ready and properly resourced to cope with student loans processing. The Government has now given DWI the appropriate level of resourcing to ensure a greatly improved service and is expecting that students will get their loans on-time.

"The new Government inherited a system which was clearly not ready for the bulge of loan applications when they occurred at the start of the year. The additional funding I have had to seek from Cabinet is testament to the neglectful attitude that National took towards the transfer of loans administration.

"DWI will be held accountable for its performance this summer. While I expect that there will be individual cases of processing delay which will be put right immediately, I do not expect to see the type of widespread systemic failure that the Government inherited this past summer.

"The improvements package announced today contains measures aimed at:
 building a strong working relationship with stakeholder groups, including students' associations and tertiary providers;
 improving all communications to students from DWI about their loan;
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 providing clear and unambiguous eligibility policy;
 improving software to support communication between providers and DWI;
 better managing loan applications at the National Student Centre, including during periods of peak demand; and
 introducing an early identification system which alerts DWI staff to applications which are behind targeted processing time.

"Limited, networked, on-campus support will be provided on the 34 major campuses nationwide. These staff will be able to provide face-to-face assistance to students who have specific information needs, enquire on the status of students' applications and complete simple transactions such as a change of address or bank account details.

"Major improvements have been made to the 0800 Student Services information line and a revamped internet site will go live at the end of this month. Student waiting times will be dramatically reduced and loan applications on line will be the simplest and quickest way to apply for a loan.

"The Government is expecting to see a much higher standard of service to students and for institutions to get access to tuition fee income in good time. Students can expect the system to be responsive, but they also have a responsibility to apply early and to supply all the documentation and information required to complete their transaction.

"DWI has benefited considerably by working closely with a tertiary sector reference group, comprising both student and provider representatives. I am pleased that the changes that DWI is implementing will cement in a strong on-going working partnership," Steve Maharey said.

Student Services Development Programme

Earlier in the year, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey commissioned a review into the Department’s delivery of student loans, the Erenstrom Evaluation of Student Loans by the Department of Work and Income. The Department has set in place a programme of development to address the key recommendations contained in the Erenstrom report as follows:

Improved External Relationships

The Department’s focus is on improved interfaces with students, institutions and other stakeholders. This includes:

 An Account Management Strategy
The Department is improving its links with institutions at a local level through an Account Management Strategy that aims to recognise and account for the needs and requirements of particular institutions. Departmental Outreach Managers will be responsible for working directly with the tertiary provider CEOs and student administration staff in their region.

The Account Management Strategy also provides a robust issue resolution process for institutions.

 Regular Reporting
A reporting process has been introduced that allows institutions to receive regular updated information on the status of loan applications for their students.

 A Consultative Approach
The Department has enhanced relationships with students by developing a more inclusive and consultative approach with student bodies at a local, regional and national level. National student bodies are represented on the Reference Group which also includes tertiary institution representatives. In addition, the National Student Services Manager is holding regular regional meetings with student advocacy groups.

Increased On Campus Services

The Department has enhanced services on 34 major campus locations from October with an initial focus on screening and receipting applications.

From January 2001 staff on campus will have on-line access to the Department’s

computer systems and will therefore be able to:
 provide face-to-face assistance to students who need specific information
 update students’ records
 complete simple transactions, such as change of address or bank account changes
 enquire on the status of students’ applications

Complex reviews and processing of applications will continue to be completed at the central processing centre. The Department will still be encouraging students to ring the 0800 number first if they have a general enquiry or want to know about their application, rather than queue on campus.

These on campus services will enhance the Department’s ability to deal with issues that require a degree of face-to-face contact, rather than replace centralised processing and call management.

Stronger Information and Communication

The Department has improved the way it informs and communicates with students by:

 Correspondence
The quality of correspondence issued to students has been reviewed in consultation with students, particularly through the loan application process. The changes will:
– improve the clarity of loans correspondence and the loan contract
– reduce the level of unnecessary correspondence

 Forms and Brochures
The Department has reviewed and refined application forms to make them simpler, where possible.

Brochures have also been reviewed and expanded to make them more comprehensive and to highlight key messages. This will ensure students are informed up front about application processes – what they have to do, what the Department will do, how long it will take and when they can expect payment.

 Providing Information
Following consultation with stakeholders, the Department is implementing a communication and information campaign providing key information about where and how to apply, along with key messages e.g. apply now.

 Consistency
The Department is implementing new technology that will enable staff to provide consistent responses to a range of frequently asked questions.

 Improved Internet site
The Student Services internet site has been re-designed, in consultation representatives from student organisations, and the content has been expanded to include more comprehensive information about student finances and the extra help available to students.

New features of the also site include:
– a whole new section about paying back a student loan (written by Inland Revenue with links to their web site)
– a “Newsdesk” page where students can get up to date information, statistics and messages.
– pages for frequently asked questions
– some background information about Student Services
– process charts illustrating the application processes for Student Allowances and Student Loans
– a page for Maori students
– a facility for downloading brochures
– useful links to other relevant sites
– maps showing Student Services Outreach Centre and Student Job Search locations
– an email facility
– an on-line Student Loan application available from every page
– a site map

Clear Operational Policy

The Department and the Ministry of Education have worked together to simplify policies and processes where possible.

 Assessing Applications For Summer School
Changes have been made that will make it easier for students to access student finances during summer school study.

 Course-related Costs
Requirements for verification of course-related costs have been eased.

Improved Systems Design

The Department is improving the way its IT systems support relationship and workload management. This includes:

 A range of system enhancements
 A range of measures to enhance the technical processes for exchanging information between the Department and institutions e.g. verification of study (VOS). These measures include setting up a dedicated team of VOS specialists to resolve issues quickly and reporting processes to highlight and manage potential issues.

Smooth Processes

The Department will manage the work involved in processing applications, taking phone calls and dealing with face to face enquiries by:

 Improving the way processing work is managed when it arrives at the processing centre.
 Clearly defining the level of resources required to manage workloads, particularly the 0800 Call Centre.
 Developing contingency plans should workload fluctuations exceed expectations.
 Improving our recruitment practices to ensure the right number of staff are in place when they are needed.
 Improving training resources and delivery to ensure staff have the right skills to do the job.

Issue Resolution

The Department has implemented a new issue escalation and resolution process that focuses on resolving issues within defined timeframes by staff with specific expertise. These staff will focus on resolving issues from:
 individual students or their advocates
 institutions
 Student Associations.

The process includes an “early warning system” to highlight for attention applications that are not progressing through the process as quickly as they should.

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