A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.
Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.
She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.
The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.
Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.
Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.
She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.
“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”
She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.
“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!
“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”
On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.
Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.
The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.
Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.
After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.
Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.
Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.
Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.
Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.
Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.
“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.
“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”
She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”
Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.
“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”
Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.
- An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
- The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
- A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
- An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance
Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Kathy has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.
“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Kathy has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”
Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary
The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!
Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!
Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .
Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature
If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator: email@example.com
Vital support for job seekers and employers in West Wales
TO MATCH job seekers with employers and career agencies across West Wales, a virtual jobs fair is taking place on Wednesday 9 September.
The free online event will be hosted by Working Wales, which is delivered by Careers Wales, and is in partnership with Job Centre Plus teams across West Wales and the south west and mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership.
Now, more than ever, job seekers and employers are relying on online support to find jobs and fill vacancies.
The event will run through Working Wales’ Facebook channels and will be split into two regional events covering West Wales mid and south. 10am-11amis for job seekers and employers in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Powys and Neath Port Talbot. 2pm-3pm will focus on Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.
Attendees for the free event will have access to a wide variety of job vacancies from many sectors across West Wales as well as expert careers advice to support with job applications.
Working Wales isfunded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and was launched by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skatesin May 2019.
Within the first year the service has directly assisted over 37,000 people across Wales. Careers Wales chief executive, Nikki Lawrence said “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the west to deliver a virtual jobs fair. Our careers advice and guidance is a vital part of supporting the economy during this pandemic, and these online events allow us to effectively and safely continue reaching and supporting our customers during these challenging times.”
To register your interest in these events, follow Working Wales on Facebook @WorkingWales. If you are an employer with vacancies to fill please also get in touch.
Available to anyone over the age of 16,Working Wales provides a one-to-one, tailored employability advice and guidance service, supporting people across Wales with job searching, CV writing, interview preparation, training and upskilling as well as with redundancy support.
For more information on Working Wales visit: www.workingwales.gov.wales or call 0800 028 4844
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
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