Saturday, 30 June 2012

Student Finance, please do your job

Currently listening to: She's a Rainbow - The Rolling Stones

If you go on any medical student forum or graduate entry medicine Facebook group, there's one topic which is guaranteed to make every graduate medic roll their eyes in utter exasperation and annoyance. This being Student Finance England, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with the UK system, the branch of the government in charge of deciding who gets how much student loan and then paying this throughout the academic year.

Of course, the student loans people don't just annoy graduate medics, and indeed I've heard grumbles from students across the academic spectrum. However, as graduate medics we are already entitled to less funding than "ordinary" non-graduate students. We don't get any grants or university bursaries, just the maintenance loan and tuition fee loan. Not even the full tuition fee loan I might add. So bearing this in mind, you can understand why we're pissed off at constantly being screwed around by this particular government body which doesn't even deign to fund us well.

The problem is basically this: the average graduate wishing to go back to university to study for a second non-medical undergraduate degree (BA, BSc, BEng, etc) is not allowed any further funding in way of student loans as they've already been through the university system once. However, it has long been understood that graduate entry medicine (MB ChB or equiv) and dentistry (BDS) are exceptions to this rule, so we receive the tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and the NHS bursary from years 2-4. All good so far. The NHS knows this, the Department of Health knows this, the direct.gov.uk people know this, even the hallowed BMJ did a piece on it for crying out loud. Except it appears that no one bothered to tell the Student Finance people about this rule. Since they're the ones who control the metaphorical piggy bank, it would have been good to include them when it comes to executing these kind of policies. Talk about a total lack of joined-up government.

So, prior to sending off my form (well before the deadline), I decided to pre-empt any chance of Student Finance idiocy by double-checking with them that they know what I'm entitled to as a graduate medic. A bit of confusion at first as the nice man on the phone didn't know what I was talking about, but he went off to talk to his manager and when he came back he assured me that I would be entitled to the tuition fee loan and maintenance loan. All good. A month later, I get a letter informing me that I am entitled to the princely sum of...£0.00. No tuition fee loan or maintenance loan. Obviously their system isn't aware of the exception made for graduate entry medicine and dentistry students.

To say that I was not a happy bunny would be understating it. Because now I have to write a letter and make more phone calls to correct what should really be something very easy for a massive organisation to do. The fact that forums and Facebook groups are FILLED with graduate medics writing about how they've repeatedly had to call Student Finance to ask them to correct this issue (and they usually do - they just need a lot of reminding), should suggest to Student Finance that perhaps it would be more efficient and effective if they were simply to fix their damn system so it doesn't implode when a graduate medic's finances need to be assessed.

It's really quite worrying that year on year a government department manages to screw up by assessing people incorrectly or paying them late and nothing is done about it. Why does this happen? Because students are a minority and graduate medics even more so. So no one cares. If the tax system or pensions system was to balls up in such a monumental way constantly, there would be an outcry. But as it's students, no one's really that bothered.

So, to get away from the rant, I am including some links below which may be of some use to graduate medics and dentsists in need of evidence of our entitlement to funding:

Official Dept of Health letter:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_127923.pdf

direct.gov.uk (scroll to the bottom):

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Typesoffinance/DG_171537

Warwick Medical School:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/funding/undergraduate/mbchb

NHS Careers:

http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/default.aspx?id=557

BMJ article:

http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20003584

Know your rights, the law is definitely on our side. It's very irritating that so many students are having to waste their time educating a government body on what it should already know, but if the alternative is being left without funding, it's definitely worth taking the time to sort this out.

4 comments:

  1. The people at student finance england are hopeless. When I was originally applying for GEM, I knew for a fact I was entitled to a maintenance loan. I spent ages filling out all the forms, sent the whole thing off only to be told 6 weeks later that I was entitled to:
    £0
    I phoned them up again to explain to them that I knew for a fact I was entitled to a maintenance loan. They said they would 're-calculate' and suddenly 2 weeks after that I was suddenly entitled to ~£3,500!
    What makes me annoyed, is that if I had not known better (with regards to what graduates are entitled to), I could quite easily have thought that I was not entitled to any financial support and would have been over three and a half grand worse off during the academic year.. It's a joke.
    Anyway; I feel your pain.

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  3. If you think student finance is bad, try dealing with the NHS bursary people!

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  4. This post has reminded me to send mine off. Cheers buddy.

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