Stop Student Finance from discriminating against mental health & medical conditions
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Students with medical conditions including mental health problems face unfair treatment and discrimination from Student Finance England when applying for tuition loans.
We all know that University creates stress, fatigue and sometimes illness due to hectic schedules and study pressures. However for many students who experience medical problems, mental or physical, University can exacerbate sufferers symptoms to a point where withdrawal from studies/ a sabbatical ('year out') is the only possible option. Many students who experience long term health conditions leave University for a period of time during their degree upon medical advice to gain treatment, and are eager to return to complete their studies when they are fit and healthy again. Common conditions leading to medical leave range from things like diabetes complications, eating disorders, life saving operations, Chron's disease, cancer, bereavement and depression.
Currently, even if you leave University upon medical advice, you have to go through a lengthy appeals process with Student Finance to be granted tuition fees to study the year you withdrew from for a second time, even if you didn't finish the year due to your medical condition. So, if you're a second year and you get gravely sick at the end of first term and have to withdraw from the year and do not finish that year of study, student finance still count it as a FULL 'year of study' and you wouldn't be automatically entitled to tuition fees to enable you to return to Univesity when you are better and complete your course. Student Finance currently classify a student as having done a 'year of study' if a student turns up to the first day of the Uni year- yes that's right , if you do one day of study, and withdraw due to medical reasons and do not return for the entire year then you will automatically lose your entitlement to a whole year of tuition fees. Tuition fees are paid termly to Universities, so Student Finance do not, for example, have to pay term 2 or term 3 fees to a University if a student withdraws in term 1. Yet that student's funding for term 2 and term 3 will automatically be classed as having been used.
This needs to change.
The Student Finance appeals process is long, arduous and so specific with wording of medical evidence/letters etc it is almost impossible to satisfy their requirements. Students often find themselves having to get many many letters from their medical practitioners (which often have a charge each time) to satisfy the ridiculous criteria Student Finance provide. The process does not treat Students or medical professionals as humans or with any basic dignity. The process is very machine like, with over specific boxes to 'tick' and a lack of common sense in terms of reading and evaluating clear medical evidence written by Doctors and Specialists. The nature of the appeals process wastes both Students and most importantly Doctors precious time constantly redrafting letters.
To make matters worse it is impossible to contact the appeals/medical evidence team at Student Finance. You are only able to speak to a generic telephone advisors who often give incorrect information and false hope as they are not directly connected to the appeals team and do not have the specialist knowledge required to assist students with their Medical Application.
On top of the complaints listed above the response time for any correspondance related to medical evidence is unacceptably slow. Students can wait months to hear back about a decision on their medical evidence and this leads to students not getting their funding in time for the start of the Unviersity year and causing unnecessary stress which exacerbates their existing health conditions. If student finance respond, as they often do, saying evidence sent is unacceptable and further evidence is required then Students often do not have enough time to contact various medical departments and obtain further documents before term starts again.
The cycle is endless, stressful and unacceptable.
Student Finance must provide a better service for Students with Medical Conditions, a dedicated helpline and support team to assist with Medical Appeal applications and shorten their response time to medical evidence to allow Students to seek extra documentation if needed.
It's time Student Finance stop discriminating and impeding the education of students with medical conditions and allow us an easier transition back into University life after illness.
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