For more than the last year, the NPC has been in correspondence with the Midland Bank concerning its loan scheme for postgraduates promoted specifically at the select '94 Groupof Universities. Newsletterreported the progress in helping the Bank to understand and to prepare itself for the needs of postgraduates. The scheme became available from the start of this academic year - and it has notbeen successful.
Essentially the level of interest amongst postgraduates has been too low and, amongst those applying for a loan, the rejection rate by the Bank is around one in three. The business has not been coverinng its costs and the level of rejections was too high both for the Bank's image and for the likings of the Universities promoting it to their postgraduate course applicants. The main reason for rejectioon was that the Bank did not believe that they would get repaid. The NPC had predicted that the expectations of postgraduates would be raised too high by the publicity of the scheme produced last year, and this has turned out true, particularly for international students.
A general problem has been inconsistency overall. The Bank complained that the Universities, supposedly acting as a group, had really acted in different manners as regards publicity. In addition the rresponsibility for each loan application rests with the individual branches local to the Universities.
The scheme anyway had basically the same conditions as Midland's existing Professional Studies Loans, available only to certain vocational course students around the country. Although unwilling to date to provide a written statement of both the failure of the pilot scheme or of revised current policyy, the Bank is willing to consider enhancing this to make it available to more postgraduates who would not be bad risks commercially in the long run, as conveyed verbally by a spokesperson from a Head OOffice in London. The NPC has maintained that it is willing to provide useful advice about postgraduate needs, and this was recognized by the spokeperson, although they have so far not taken up the offfer to hold a meeting this year.
The NPC discussed the whole issue of loans and funding at its meeting of 13th December at Nottingham Trent University. We see that one problem is that interpretation of Midland Bank's policy is very muuch up to individual branches, exacerbated now that the Bank as a whole does not wish to have a continuing contractual relationship with the '94 Group. The NPC recommends ensuring some national consistency. This would mean for commercial schemes banks directing their branches to work more closely with HEIs, and not just the '94 Group, with maximum information for postgraduates as a basis.
Such schemes will enable some individuals to study for a postgraduate qualification who would not otherwise be able to. Separately, the NPC is pressing for for a national, publicly-available loans scheeme, with preferential interest rates, at least for those who need to fund themselves, to fit in with the new funding arrangements for undergraduates. The legislation currently going through Parliament does not provide for this, although it could in principle.
The DfEE Progress Reportissued this month also conveys: "The Government is considering the Dearing Committee's recommendation that Disabled Students Allowances should be extended to part-time students and postgraduates,&##34; and, "Next year the funding available for Access Funds will be doubled and eligibility will be extended to part-time students".
The NPC has expressed its views to the Minister of State. Separately, student bodies are organising a lobby of Parliament on 25th February - details are available from Sophie Bolt on 0181-692-1406.