Saturday 4 February 2012

On Student Confusion

Famed Troubleshooter Ed Lester
So we now know that the Chief Executive of the Student Loans Company,  Ed Lester, has for two years avoided tax and National Insurance on his 6-figure salary by being paid through a private consultancy firm. The revelation has rubbed salt in the wounds of all the ordinary mortals who pay their taxes, and repay their student loans, through the British Inland Revenue’s Pay As You Earn system.

This latest crisis in the SLC follows the debacle which got the previous CEO Ralph Seymour-Jackson sacked. In 2009, 100,000 students arrived at university penniless, despite having logged one million unanswered phone calls to the company. Lester was brought in then as SLC trouble-shooter, and clearly thought he deserved tax-emption status as a reward. 

But every SLC’s student ‘customer’ I have talked to reports that dealing with the company on the telephone is as frustrating as ever.  You get stuck in a loop of ‘being transferred to another department’ and ‘just popped on hold’. This can go on for several hours before you put the phone down and reach for a gin or a gun. In fact, phoning the SLC feels like getting stuck on a nightmare circular roller coaster. 

The 'Blue Tornado' Suspended Looping Coaster
By coincidence, the acronym SLC also stands for Suspended Looping Coaster. I happen to know this because I have friends in Holland where the largest European SLC manufacturer (Vekoma) operates. Things which go up and down violently are particularly prized in that country because of the lack of hills on ordinary motorways.  

According to Vekoma’s marketing blurb, the holday park owner who purchases an SLC  can provide an experience identical  to that which Student Loans Company CEO Ed Lester offers the hapless would-be student who dares to make a telephone enquiry: 

‘Listen your guests screaming with excitement as they plunge towards the ground before being looped head over heels towards the sky. The new SLC offers more thrills for the investment. With the riders positioned underneath the track, it creates a greater feeling of height and offers an unobstructed view downwards. The Suspended Looping Coaster adds more variety with just that little extra’.

I have also this week received an email from the SLC inviting me, as a university employee involved with admissions, to spend £400 plus VAT to attend a seminar in March at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire. Ed Lester, if the government has not made him into a Fall Guy before that, will address us on the topic of ‘the future shape of the SLC’. This raises the exciting possibility that he has been studying the fascinating shape of the other SLC and wants to introduce more screams of excitement, loops and downwards vistas into the Student Loan Acquisition Experience. 

Delegates Discuss Student Confusion
And to help the poor phone caller endlessly passed from extension to answering machine, ‘Derek Ross; Director of Operations, SLC, will explore what scope the SLC/HEI partnership has to resolve the risk of student confusion.’ 

Does anyone want to give me a loan so I can attend this important conference? If I am given exemption from tax and NI in perpetuity I am happy to do this for you.

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