Government review of Student Loans Company finds ‘overwhelmed and outdated IT’

Organisation’s tech and digital set-up needs improvement, report finds

Credit: Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Student Loans Company (SLC) needs to address an “overwhelmed and outdated infrastructure”, a government review has found.

Over the last seven months, officials from the Department for Education have been conducting a tailored review of the non-departmental public body. The newly published results of this review show that, during 2018/19, the company met or exceeded 38 of 43 performance targets.

Despite this good performance the company still faces a number of challenges – chief among them an IT set-up that is increasingly showing signs of age and “fragility”.  

The DfE report said that “the SLC’s current technology architecture was created in the 1990s for a much simpler, lower-volume service [and] the need to upgrade the SLC’s ageing systems and adopt new technologies is now critical”.

The company has ended up with “a fragmented digital offering and an inflexible ICT estate”, and also faces issues relating to cybersecurity risks and quality of data. 

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While SLC has taken steps in the last four years to update its systems, such work has typically and been piecemeal and “there has been no clear IT roadmap”, according to the report.

As well as an ageing tech estate, the company has also failed to keep pace with the increased popularity and functionality of online services. 

The report said: “Although digital delivery improvements have been made, paper applications remain the only option for some of the more specialist product offerings and the SLC acknowledges that, on the whole, its service does not always meet the expectations of its digitally enabled customer base.”

The organisation has now set out on a four-pronged transformation strategy, through which it intends to deliver additional digital functions for customers, a modernised IT infrastructure, improved management and operations, and better fraud-detection measures.

The review makes three recommendations in relation to IT and data.

The first of these is that SLC should “consider how it can enhance and embed peer support for its tech and digital transformation plans”. 

The second suggestion is that the company should define and implement best practice in the areas of cybersecurity and resilience.

The final instruction is that it should continue working with the Government Digital Service to improve the online experience it provides for users. In doing so, it should also seek to learn from other digital projects across government.

In his foreword to the report, universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “Whilst the SLC is meeting the majority of its targets, it could still improve the customer service and value for money it provides. Previous attempts at addressing these issues have not fully resolved them. However, the lessons learned are being used to shape a new transformation programme that should make it easier, quicker, safer and cheaper for the SLC and its government partners to run the student financing system. The recommendations in this review are focused on developing the enabling environment for such a transformation.”


Sam Trendall

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