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Student Loans Company Full Time and Sponsored Applications – Service Assessment

The service allows full time students to apply for tuition fee loans as well as loans and non-repayable grants to help with their living costs while studying.

Department /Agency:
BIS / Student Loans Company

Date of Assessment:

Moving to:
Public Beta

Pass with conditions

Lead Assessor:
D. Wilks

Service Manager:
L. Brown

Digital Leader:
C. Smith

Assessment report

The Student Loans Company (SLC) full-time and sponsored applications service is seeking permission to continue development as it moves from Alpha to Public Beta. The service was assessed against all pre-April 2014 criteria of the Digital by Default Service Standard.

 Outcome of service assessment

Government Digital Service (GDS) has decided to give the SLC full-time and sponsored applications service approval to launch as a Public Beta subject to the conditions below.

GDS were very encouraged by technical improvements since the previous session, and that SLC are working on the organisational changes needed to support frequent iteration.

GDS recognise the request to launch the service without the BETA logo and reaffirm that this exemption has been allowed due to SLC’s unusual circumstances. This request has also started a wider discussion within GDS as we learn from the varied users of the assessment process.


All these conditions are points which should be addressed as soon as possible during beta (none are a pre-condition to beta launch).

1. Security - please raise the issues below with CESG - assuming CESG are content, GDS will also be happy to accept their steer:

  • whether the sponsor email contains the right credentials to establish its own authenticity
  • whether the fact that users expect emails of this type from government agencies creates an environment where phishing attacks become easier

2. Ensure that the future budget allows for at least the current level of research with ordinary external users to continue

3. SLC plan to make several improvements in light of exploratory testing by the minister and also by the assessment team. GDS will share separately a list of all the minor content issues which they have found. No amount of testing will ever make the service perfect, and iterative improvement will continue during live running. However, detailed exploratory testing by people with digital skills is likely to uncover significant issues relating to edge cases. SLC should therefore do more content analysis and exploratory testing: GDS could help with this. SLC should also consider the use of search analytics to help match users' language and help frame potential points where users have questions.

4. Improve User Interface on mobile devices (especially for the “speed bump” screens)

5. Improve the aesthetic design of the user interface where students select university and course

 Other observations

Areas of improvement since previous assessment:

The service manager seemed generally more empowered to lead service delivery. GDS were pleased to hear that responding to analytical inputs is now part of product manager job descriptions, that the service manager now has direct access to customer feedback data, and that the service manager can arrange rapid deployments. GDS’ understanding is that SLC normally deploy one release per fortnight, but that SLC recently had a period of two releases per week, and that SLC can deploy releases even more rapidly where they are very urgent.

Other points to reflect on:

When applying as an EU student, the drop down flags to the user that they can obtain finance by providing their ID card rather than their passport. But in some countries, the national identity card is not very robust against fraud. This is really a matter for SLC to take advice from the appropriate policy and security experts, but SLC may perhaps want to consider digitally nudging nationals of countries with less robust ID cards towards providing passports, and ID cards only by exception. Clearly, for UK nationals, it would be helpful for you to include Identity Assurance (IDA) as soon as this is convenient.

Two issues where GDS is still developing further guidance are relevant to SLC:

Digital Analytics: SLC should ensure it is satisfied by its contractual arrangements for its analytics solution regarding data security, data ownership and privacy and SLAs. GDS has commissioned a market overview and we will be happy to share the output when this is available.

Javascript: the full time application uses javascript, and SLC’s broader digital transformation does so even more heavily. Applications which depend on javascript functionality are less resilient than those which can work on an HTML only basis, but several factors need to be balanced (i.e. cost, functionality, accessibility, resilience). GDS is urgently discussing this area, and SLC need to stay involved in that conversation.