Over 800 students on nursing and other healthcare courses have been affected by a mistake that means their latest loan instalments are at risk, ministers have confirmed.
In addition, it has been revealed that the number of universities affected by the error by the Student Loans Company has reached 20, which is twice the level previously known.
The government has set out the scale of the problem for the first time since the issue emerged last month.
At that point, as reported by Nursing Times, more than a hundred student nurses had been told they would not receive any further loan instalments for their living costs this academic year.
The decision by the Student Loans Company not to provide further instalments came after it mistakenly overpaid the trainees at an earlier point in the year.
In response to a parliamentary question, the government has now stated that 804 students have been told loan instalments expected next week will be reduced or withheld entirely due to the error.
“I may have to consider whether or not I can remain on my course as a result of the error”
The students have been told they will not receive full loan payments for the new academic term, following overpayments ranging from £600 to £6,000 were made earlier in the year.
The administrative errors by the Student Loans Company have left many concerned over rent and living costs for the next six months and some feel forced to quit their university courses.
Universities minister Sam Gyimah revealed the number of students affected and universities involved in written answers to questions from Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon.
Students who queried the overpayment amounts with the loans company earlier in the year received false reassurances the amounts were correct, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
The college has called on the education secretary, Damian Hinds, to examine the issue with the loans company, which is government owned, and use his statutory power to write off the amounts.
“The government can ill-afford to have even more turn away from the profession”
The largest overpayments were made to the poorest students – recipients of means-tested grants, often mature students without parental support and with children or caring responsibilities.
The errors came to light as latest data showed that the number of applications made to nursing courses had continued to fall, in the wake of the axing of the bursary and a move to loans.
Rupert Davies, a nursing student in London with two young children, said: “I am worried about the devastating effect that a considerable reduction in payments will have on my family.
“Being told I had been overpaid by £2,700, and that this would be recovered from future payments, was a huge shock to me,” said Mr Davies.
“Hospital placements and high childcare costs mean I am unable to take on extra paid work, so I may have to consider whether or not I can remain on my course as a result of the error,” he said.
Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “When we face such significant nursing shortages, trainees should be supported and encouraged.
“The government can ill-afford to have even more turn away from the profession,” she said. “A sharp reduction in loan payments could have a catastrophic effect on limited student budgets and drive some to leave their studies.
“Nursing students should not be paying the price for this error, and the subsequent clumsy attempts to reclaim the overpayments,” said Ms Davies.
“What makes this particularly galling is that those students who queried the payments were told they were correct,” she noted.
She added: “Ministers must use their power to resolve this fiasco, write-off the overpayments and protect students from further stress and disruption.”
The 20 universities involved are:
- Brunel University London
- Cardiff University
- Glyndwr University
- Plymouth Marjon University
- University of Brighton
- University of Manchester
- University of Southampton
- University of Suffolk
- University of West London
- Leeds University
- University of Essex
- University of Bedfordshire
- University of Worcester
- Anglia Ruskin University
- London Metropolitan University
- University of Central Lancashire
- University of Derby
- University of Portsmouth
- University of Reading
- University of Salford