11 Aug 2015
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Have they finally fixed StudyLink?

By Shannon Williams

Recent changes to StudyLink has seen more than 130,000 students benefit, according to Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew, who says the improvements made to the student loan and allowance application process is a result of a three year collaboration between StudyLink and the National Student Union.

Improvements include simplified website content, fast pre-filled forms, a digital document depository using New Zealand Post’s ‘Connect’ service, and improved call centre experience.

“Reduced call centre waiting times have given students faster access to StudyLink support and advice,” Goodhew says. “The number of unanswered calls has been slashed from over 800,000 in 2013 to less than 8,000 this year.

“The online application process has also improved to the extent that our physical offices are reporting a 22.5% drop in foot traffic over the past year, which shows just how much time we are saving students,” she explains.

“Three years of collaboration between StudyLink and the national student union has allowed us to respond to student feedback and the resulting improvements have made the online application experience a lot better.

“I congratulate StudyLink on these improvements and commend the student union for their collaboration and feedback,” says Goodhew.

“Together, we will continue improving the service StudyLink provides to make students’ lives a bit easier."

McCourt improving StudyLink was a top priority for the union. Through the partnership, the unanswered calls figure was slashed to less than 8,000 this year, and almost all students got their payments on time, he says.NZUSA President Rory McCourt says students were deeply unhappy with the service in 2013, when students experienced considerable delays in getting their entitlements, sometimes until well after their courses had started.

The partnership benefited from a digital discussion group with feedback sourced from hundreds of students across the country.

“Using the constructive feedback from NZUSA, StudyLink could confidently set a due date of 16 December for applications, easing the peak season and getting more loans and allowances paid by orientation,” McCourt explains.

“That’s the bottom line for us – that this service works like it should so that students can begin their courses without worrying about whether they’re going to be able to pay rent that week.”

NZUSA executive director Dr Alistair Shaw, who has led the project from the students’ side, says the union has enjoyed working with the Government department, recognising StudyLink’s commitment to ‘hearing and heeding the student voice’ to make significant changes.

“We appreciate how well StudyLink have listened to us,” says Shaw. “They have been engaged and responsive, adapting their practices in light of the feedback from students which we’ve been able to provide.”

McCourt says the partnership has improved the lives of students, with pre-filled forms saving them half an hour each alone.

“This is a great example of where the Government has been able to improve the lives of students, by working hand-in-hand with students themselves,” he says.

“Undoubtedly StudyLink is a much better service than it was a couple of years ago and I’m proud we could be part of making that turnaround happen alongside the Government.”

McCourt says now students have a much higher certainty of getting the income they’re entitled to, the union would increase its focus on arguing for liveable incomes for students.

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