Diving into SLC provider level data

David Kernohan ponders and plots fee and maintenance loan availability in 2020-21. But why were unregistered providers getting fee loan income in 2020?

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

There’s not much made of Student Loans Company (SLC) data releases, which to me represents something of a shame.

Here I’m looking at fee and maintenance loan data for full time undergraduate students domiciled in England at provider level – I’ve chosen this as the biggest and most politically unstable component of SLC lending, but you can find similar data for postgraduate loans, and for Wales, and Northern Ireland with respect to the 2020-21 academic year.

Within these categories you can find all kinds of information mixed unhelpfully together in the provider totals – for instance feel loans mix together standard £9,250 payments (by far the dominant component) with accelerated degree fees, and discounted (either as a sticker price or via fee loan bursaries) or lower limit fees. Maintenance loans figures mix together all students in receipt of loans, but don’t separate out students eligible for different levels of fee loan with respect to where they study (London or elsewhere), where they live (at home or away), or how much of their annual entitlement they choose to apply for.

With all this in mind we end up squinting and caveating to see what might be going on. This graph plots average (total paid divide by the total number of students it was paid with respect to) payments for fee and maintenance loans. At first glance it is hugely complex:

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But we can make a few assumptions:

  • Average fee loan higher than £9,250: a high proportion of students on accelerated degrees.
  • High average maintenance loan: a high proportion of students in receipt of DSA (also included in these figures)
  • Average maintenance loan is low, average fee loan is high: a high proportion of students who are not using maintenance loans to cover living costs – which could mean students from comfortable backgrounds using savings or relying on family support, or students who are predominantly working while studying.
  • Lower than expected average fee or maintenance loans: a high proportion of students funding their studies outside of the fee loan system. This could mean well off students paying fees upfront, or devout Islamic students using sharia compliant finance.

Another way to look at these groups is to consider the number of students in receipt of fee loans and not maintenance loans (a very unsatisfying subtraction of the number provided with maintenance loans from the number provided with fee loans). Here’s that plot:

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We can also view changes year on year – here you can see figures by provider or for the whole sector. This is a good way to see the impact of better or worse than expected recruitment among England domiciled students on provider finances

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Sector wide switches

SLC reports an increase in the number of students in receipt of fee loans only for 2020-21 – some 74,600 did this in 2020-21, compared to 68,000 in 2019-20 and 77,200 in 2018-19. It is suggested that students remaining at their parental home during Covid-19 restrictions could be a part of this trend.

The trend in students taking maintenance loans only slowed in 2020-21 – this represents just over 4 per cent of all students this year – down from nearly 10 per cent in 2013-14.

Other overall trends

Wave a fond farewell to student maintenance grants – abolished in 2016 by the Cameron administration, the last students eligible for these are gradually leaving the system. An overwhelming proportion of support (99.9 per cent) offered is now via loans – just £10m in grants were awarded in 2020-21.

The increase in the number of England-domiciled students in the system mean that overall payments are up 5.3 per cent year on year from 2019 – the two previous year-on-year increases were 4.0 and 4.1 per cent. However the comparable increases in student numbers were 5.8, 2.9, and 2.5 per cent respectively – suggesting that at least some of the growth has happened in lower-cost courses.

We also saw an increase in the number of EU students receiving fee loans – this 6.2 per cent rise can be attributed to a need to apply before the 31 December 2020 deadline for settled status.

Included within the provider totals are fees for accelerated degrees – we’ve seen a 178.8 per cent increase in the number of students eligible for these higher payments, which sounds impressive until you realise the number of eligible students rose from just 1,440 to 2,240. Representing 0.2 per cent of all students in receipt of fee loans, it’s not quite the game changer that many predicted.

Early year look ahead

The presentation of early year data is hampered by the inclusion of the 2020-21 double payment in term 1 – it would surely not be beyond the wit of SLC to reallocate the second payment to term 2 for statistical purposes. For this reason analysis of the provided data is difficult.

It looks like both the number of students paid and the amount paid in maintenance loans and fee loans continue the multi-year trend in growth in 2021-22, as we would already expect from UCAS figures. There’s a rise in the amount lent per student too. But these are very much projections based on early year data – there’s a lot more of this year to go.

Anomalies

At Wonkhe there’s always a lot of interest on the providers that seem to have students in receipt of English system fee loans and/or maintenance loans despite not being registered with the Office for Students. There’s no question about the majority of these as “school centred initial teacher training” (SCITTs), these are regulated elsewhere in the DfE orbit. And the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama is now a part of the University of South Wales.

But there are others.

  • St Patrick’s International College students received £4.1m in maintenance loans and the provider itself saw £1,862,500 in fee loan income.
  • The London School of Science and Technology saw £1,364,250 in fee income – students received £2.8m in maintenance loans.

Neither are on the OfS register, or appear to ever have been. LSST offers courses leading to awards from a range of registered English providers, St Patrick’s appears to offer only HNDs and claims that these are courses designated by DfE although this hasn’t been possible since July 2019. It’s possible that these payments may reflect teach-out arrangements – these would be for about 500 students at LSST and about half that at St Patricks.

Either way, I’d love to know for sure so do leave a comment.

2 responses to “Diving into SLC provider level data

  1. St. Patrick’s had DfE designation in 2018, and students in receipt of funding at that point would be eligible for funding as part of their teach out arrangements (though that should presumably winding down / ending).

  2. The Office for Students operates two schemes for providers who aren’t registered to get loan funding. One is designated teach out for providers who got turned down for registration, and the other is called limited time designation for providers who are still waiting for their registration decision despite applying in 2018… I think there are still a few of these. It’s only for the students who had loans before the OfS regime took over from DfE.

    When I was working with one of the providers in this group the people who operated this scheme were actually the most helpful people I came across in the OfS – they actually responded to emails normally within a day, and you could actually talk to them on the phone! They had the best interests of students at heart.

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