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Education

Student finance ‘discriminates against women and mature students’

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Very friendly and supportive: Neil Hamilton

A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.

Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.

She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.

The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.

Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.

Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.

She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.

“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”

She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.

“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!

“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”

On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.

Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.

The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.

Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.

After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.

Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.

Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.

Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.

Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.

Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.

“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.

“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”

She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”

Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.

“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”

Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.

  • An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
  • The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
  • A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
  • An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance

Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Tricia has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.

“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Tricia has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”

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Community

Staff experience what dementia may feel like

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During Autumn 2019 Ceredigion County Council staff and elected members were given the opportunity to take part in a Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT). By using specialist equipment and creating a simulated environment, the experience gave an insight into what dementia might feel like.

Donna Pritchard, Corporate Lead Officer Porth Ceredigion and Deputy Statutory Director for Social Services said: “This has been a very thought-provoking experience. It’s allowed participants to physically and emotionally feel what it would be like to live with Dementia and to acknowledge the challenges to overcome that sensory loss brings.”

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. This may include problems with memory loss, thinking speed, mental sharpness and quickness, language, understanding judgement, mood, movement and difficulties carrying out daily activities.

Donna continued: “The Virtual Dementia Tour identifies ways to improve communication for people living with dementia and ways that care and support staff can change their practice to improve their lives and help them achieve positive outcomes. All our staff at residential homes have been trained to ensure that people with dementia are supported in an inclusive environment.”

Staff yn cael profiad o’r hyn y gall dementia deimlo fel

Yn ystod yr Hydref 2019 rhoddwyd cyfle i staff ac aelodau etholedig Cyngor Sir Ceredigion gymryd rhan mewn ‘Virtual Dementia Tour‘ (VDT). Drwy ddefnyddio offer arbenigol a chreu amgylchedd ffug, roedd y profiad yn rhoi cipolwg ar yr hyn y gallai dementia ei deimlo.

Dywedodd Donna Pritchard, Swyddog Arweiniol Corfforaethol Porth Ceredigion a Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Statudol Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol: “Mae hwn wedi bod yn brofiad sy’n ysgogi’r meddwl. Mae’n caniatáu i gyfranogwyr deimlo sut beth fyddai fyw gyda dementia, yn gorfforol ac yn emosiynol, a chydnabod yr heriau i oresgyn y golled synhwyraidd honno.”

Mae dementia yn syndrom (grŵp o symptomau cysylltiedig) sy’n gysylltiedig â dirywiad parhaus o ran gweithrediad yr ymennydd. Gall hyn gynnwys problemau o ran colli cof, cyflymder meddwl, miniogrwydd meddwl a chyflymdra, iaith, deall dyfarniad, hwyliau, symud ac anawsterau’n cyflawni gweithgareddau dyddiol.

Parhaodd Donna: “Mae’r ‘Virtual Dementia Tour’ yn nodi ffyrdd o wella’r cyfathrebu ar gyfer pobl sy’n byw gyda dementia a ffyrdd y gall staff gofal a chymorth newid eu hymarfer i wella eu bywydau a’u helpu i gyflawni canlyniadau cadarnhaol. Mae pob un o’n staff mewn cartrefi preswyl wedi cael eu hyfforddi i sicrhau bod pobl â dementia yn cael eu cefnogi mewn amgylchedd cynhwysol.”

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Education

Seren and Sbarc kick off new series of books with a story to coincide with Rugby World Cup

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WELSH Government and WRU announced a partnership to encourage more school children to use Welsh.

They have been inspiring school children to use Welsh in and out of the classroom for a while, but Siarter Iaith mascots Seren a Sbarc have now moved on to the next level with their very own book. Released as part of a partnership, the book will be issued to all primary schools in Wales to encourage children to read more Welsh and to cheer Wales on in Welsh.

The book, Seren a Sbarc yn Achub (Cwpan) y Bydysawd (Seren a Sbarc Save the Universe (Cup)), written by Elidir Jones and illustrated by Huw Aaron, tells the tale of the heroic characters fighting off monsters and villains using the skills they have learnt through rugby and speaking Welsh.

The book gives children and parents fun way of learning and using Welsh through rugby, as the nation eagerly watches Wales on their World Cup journey.

All primary schools in Wales will receive copies of the book to help inspire the next generation of Welsh speakers as part of the Siarter Iaith.

Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, said: “As rugby fever grips the country, children right across Wales will be reading about the heroic antics of Seren and Sbarc as they fight off monsters with their fantastic Welsh and sport skills! This exciting project with the WRU is a great way of inspiring the next generation of Welsh speakers, and future rugby players. Rugby is a sport that brings the nation together and the Welsh language is a big part of that.”

To launch the book, Seren and Sbarc joined pupils of Ysgol Bro Allta in Ystrad Mynach for a busy day of rugby practice and sending good luck messages to the Wales team. Dragons players Aaron Jarvis and James Benjamin also joined the Year 5 and 6 pupils as they carried out tasks from the WRU Digital Classroom resource, launched to inspire pupils to achieve in all areas through rugby.

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Education

Ceredigion Schools Succeed in Exam Results

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The GCSE exam results published today (22 August) by the WJEC show that very high standards are being maintained in Ceredigion schools.

 

98.8% of entries for WJEC exams were graded A* to G, with 24.9% of the entries achieving A* and A grades. 72.5% of entries were graded A* to C.

 

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “We are delighted with Ceredigion pupils’ achievements in a wide range of subjects. They have proven once again that hard work and commitment leads to success. I would like to sincerely thank staff and governors for their leadership and their continued support for our pupils. We wish the young people of Ceredigion the very best as they confidently progress on their chosen path.”

 

The following table provides the figures for Ceredigion and Wales:

           Ceredigion                                                Wales
Grade   A* – A                              24.9%                                                     18.4%
Grade A*-C                                  72.5%                                                     62.8%
Grade A*-G                                 98.8%                                                     97.2%

 

Compared with the Welsh average, an additional 6% of Ceredigion entries achieved A*-A grades and, in the case of A*-C grades, Ceredigion’s entries achieved almost 10% more than the Welsh average.

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