Executive Recruitment

Environment and context

Business and external environment

SLC has experienced significant growth over the last eight years. Customer numbers have increased by nearly 60% and our loan book has more than tripled.

Over the same period, the type of student finance we offer on behalf of our government shareholders has diversified – for example with introduction of master’s, doctoral and part-time support packages. But as our product variants have increased so too has the resulting policy complexity, which now contributes to the length of time and cost to implement new policy.

SLC’s technology estate had grown organically since the organisation commenced creating a patchwork set of systems which has been developed piecemeal making it difficult and expensive to effect policy change. Technical debt and unsupported software has also accrued in this period.

Although we have made good progress stabilising systems and bringing them into support there remain significant issues around the flexibility of systems to change in order to meet demand.

Alongside continuing annual increases in the number of our customers, we expect further significant challenges. The buoyant post-Covid recruitment market throughout the UK is already impacting our ability to attract and retain employees. Our recently approved pay and grading case may help us to mitigate this to some extent for specific technical roles but increasing cost of living is likely to add to the challenge.

Like many organisations, SLC is implementing new ways of working – our working model “Blend” sees colleagues returning to the office for part of their week. This model is designed to offer greater flexibility and the benefits of both home and office working to colleagues as well as to allow SLC to better respond to employment market pressures. We are very aware of the pressures that many of our colleagues will face over the coming months as the cost of living continues to increase.

Student finance during the pandemic

Despite the enormous challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, SLC performance over this time was strong. We managed a record increase in student finance applications over the two years of the pandemic – with overall students paid increasing by more than 8.5% across academic years 2020/21 and 2021/22, compared to pre-pandemic expected increases of around 1.5% per year. The number of student finance applications that were fully processed and ready-to-pay by term start also increased compared to the previous year in both 2020 and 2021.

In addition to delivering our core business of student finance during the pandemic, we also worked with the Department for Education (DfE) and the wider HE sector to achieve a reliable solution for reprofiling tuition fee payments for 2020/21; delivered the complex policy changes as a result of Brexit; and worked with DfE on the early stages of Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) and HE reforms. Throughout, we also maintained the momentum on Evolve, our critical transformation programme.

This was achieved through:

  • Tight, agile cross-business management of the apply to pay process, operating in Major Incident mode
  • Quick and creative working with DfE to agree process and policy changes to allow us to prioritise assessment and payment
  • More intense communications and engagement

Transforming SLC – Evolve 

To ensure SLC is a sustainable business in the future, we are three years into an enterprise-wide transformation programme to improve the customer experience through digital technologies, data transformation, simplified policy commissioning and products, and the creation of a more attractive proposition for our staff. Our transformation programme, Evolve, will be delivered by 2025.

Our strategy is to change how we operate, such that the majority of our customers will be able to self-serve. This will enable colleagues to focus their attention and expertise on helping those customers whose cases are less straightforward and are most in need of our support.

The Infrastructure Project Authority (IPA) has recently completed its annual stage gate review of Evolve rating it green, meaning successful delivery of the programme/project to time, cost and quality appears highly likely and there are no major outstanding issues that at this stage appear to threaten delivery.

Our Customer Experience Strategy

We have made a strategic commitment to improve the customer experience. Our ambition is to develop and implement a leading end-to-end Customer Experience strategy which puts the customer experience (CX) front and centre to deliver the sort of services our customers and stakeholders’ demand. We recognise that we have some way to go to achieve this vision, from our information and guidance, through to the quality of our customer care and the design and reliability of our platforms, products and services.

A key ambition of our new CX proposition is a case-management service model that provides a greater level of support to those customers who need it most, which is enabled by the majority of customers being able to self-serve to a greater extent thanks to the new technologies introduced through Evolve. 

In 2021 we established a new Customer Panel to receive regular, impartial opinions from our customers – past, present and future. The panel will enhance our understanding of our customers’ experience and identify where improvements can be made.

Lifelong Loan Entitlement and HE Reforms

At a time of increased demand and significant challenge in recruiting and retaining the talent that SLC needs, we are also ramping up to deliver DfE’s flagship Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). LLE is the UK Government programme to replace the current, fragmented offer to Student Finance England customers studying in FE or HE undergraduate, part-time or full-time, with a new, single, streamlined system of student finance. SLC is the key delivery partner and is actively co-designing the policy and implementation plan with DfE, No10 and HM Treasury (HMT).

The introduction of LLE will fundamentally change our product-centred business model; the new model will be shaped much more around a customer’s personal account. The LLE will be introduced from 2025, providing individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 higher education to use over their lifetime. It will be available both for modules and for full years of study at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4 to 6). This will facilitate flexible study – allowing individuals to space out their studies, transfer credits between FE and HE institutions, and take up more part-time study.

LLE is being introduced in the context of a wider suite of HE reforms, on which the UK Government is currently consulting. While still to be confirmed, it is likely that other aspects of these reforms will also require SLC to play a critical delivery role.