The Education Minister has moved to head off criticism of the Student Awards Agency for Scotland by announcing an unprecedented inquiry into its operations.
The beleaguered agency has been in the eye of the storm since last September when The TES Scotland revealed a backlog in the processing of grants for students on higher national diploma and certificate courses in FE colleges. A new computer system was blamed.
Brian Wilson said the imminent role of the agency in handling student tuition fees from the next academic session made a review essential. He acknowledged delays were "unacceptable" although he praised the efforts of the agency's staff.
The review will be overseen by a steering committee chaired by Gerry Wilson, head of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department. It will include two other senior Scottish Office figures: Ed Weeple, under-secretary in charge of lifelong learning, and Niall Campbell, under-secretary for home affairs. University and college managements, staff and students will also be represented on the group, along with three experts from the financial services sector: Eleanor McQuater of the Bank of Scotland, Marcia Campbell of Standard Life and Andrew Grant from General Accident.
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said the sector expected the review to lead to a better performance, better prioritisation of applications and better communications. Mr Kelly said account should be taken of the fact that FE colleges start a month earlier than universities and that new students, who are least familiar with the system, should not have their grants dealt with after those for continuing students.
Of 116,434 students whose applications were received by January 13, 2,244 have still to be told whether they were successful, representing a two-week backlog.