Education Funding Agency saves 42% with digital student support scheme

21 Mar 2016, 7:53 pm

The Education Funding Agency has saved more than 40% on costs following the introduction of an easy-to-use digital application form to replace its paper forms.

GraduateThe Department for Education sponsored executive agency offers student support schemes that allow potential students to apply for financial support while they study.

The schemes ensure that thousands of people, including vulnerable people, have access to education and training. The service manages £60 million of payments, 40,000 calls from parents, 16,000 loan enquiries and 9,500 loan applications annually.

But the application process for student support schemes was far from smooth, with 40-50% of forms submitted incomplete or with errors for the Care to Learn fund. At around 15 pages long, if the form was returned with missing or inconsistent information, it had to go back to the three parties required to fill it in (the applicant, college and childcare provider).

So when a contract came up for renewal, the agency took the opportunity to improve the application process for users and for themselves and in doing so, step up to growing pressure to attain value for money services.

Capita was tasked with improving and operating the agency’s three main schemes:

  • Care to Learn, which provides financial support to young parents who want to continue or return to learning covering childcare and travel costs (5000 applications annually)
  • The Bursary Fund for Vulnerable Students, which helps the most financially disadvantaged 16-19 year olds meet the costs of education or training (4000 applications annually)
  • Professional and Career Development Loans, which provide adults with loans from two banks (13,000 enquiries and 9,000 applications annually)

Termtime challenge

The aim was to improve the customer experience by creating an exclusively self-service, intuitive digital form to eliminate the paper application process and significantly reduce human interaction. Consequently, the form – and online help to fill it in – would be accessible at any time, and not just during business hours.

The timescales were tight. The team had just five months to design, build and implement the digital solution, which was “extremely challenging, according to Phil Knight, managing director of Capita’s Funds Disbursements Service. “The form would need to be flexible, and not tied in to one type of scheme,” he said. It would also need to integrate with other systems such as Ofsted’s and payment systems.

During that time, the development team had to make sure that the form was compliant with government security requirements and resistant to fraud (the digital form includes a payment option).

Digital outcome

A small team made up of operations staff from Capita Software Services and Capita Connect, and the Education Funding Agency were involved in the build and led user testing sessions to help devise the most suitable solution. This was particularly important, because the support schemes serve a “very diverse range of users” according to Knight.

The final digital form is intuitive and stripped of information that is not relevant to the user, as had previously been the case. Only questions  pertinent to the user in question now appear on the new digital form.

The form is accessed via a secure portal and uses Capita’s Paradigm and Connect software. Users can check their progress as they fill in the form and webchat and online guidance which pops up in a side box assists users as they progress.

The team made You Tube videos to explain how the new application form, as part of broader efforts to inform applicants of the changes and email alerts and reminders are automatically sent to those making an application.

The new form has completely eliminated the return of ‘bad firms’ says Knight – forms submitted with errors or incomplete forms, because it is impossible to submit the digital form unless every field has been filled in correctly.

Joe Carr, Manager, Education Funding Agency said that a dedicated project team, “frequent but focused” communication to users and user testing have helped to account for the success of the project.

Joe Carr and Phil Knight presented a workshop on the service redesign at the Local Digital Programme’s Local Digital Futures event last week.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, by Lazarus211073873 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0