Education Funding Agency saves 30% by digitising its student bursary support scheme

16 May 2016

Capita has developed a complete digital solution to improve the application process for the Education Funding Agency’s range of student support schemes.

It goes beyond just more intuitive, streamlined online application forms to improve the user experience and includes a portal, a back office system and a range of 70 digital forms covering attendance monitoring to change of circumstance.

The Education Funding Agency has saved more than 30% on costs following the introduction of an easy-to-use digital application form to replace its paper forms for Care to Learn, a student support scheme that allows students to receive financial support while they study.

The scheme is one of three funds that ensures that thousands of people, including vulnerable people, have access to education and training:

  • 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)

The whole service manages around £60 million of funding, 40,000 calls from students, Education Institutions, Childcare Providers and others, 16,000 Professional and Career Development Loans enquiries and 9,500 Professional and Career Development Loans loan applications annually.

But the application process for student support schemes was far from smooth.

In the case of the Care to Learn funding scheme, applicants needed to fill in a paper form around 16 pages long and the accompanying guidance was a similar length.

Some 40-50% of forms were submitted incomplete or with errors, in which case, they would be returned to the three parties required to complete it (the applicant, college and childcare provider) to make amendments.

So when a contract came up for renewal, the Education Funding Agency - a Department for Education sponsored body - grabbed the opportunity to take a fresh approach to service delivery and step up to growing pressure to attain value for money.

Term-time challenge

Capita responded by creating an exclusively self-service, intuitive digital process, eliminating paper applications and significantly reducing human interaction and unnecessary re-work for the three schemes.

The application process – and online help to complete it - would become 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 forms would need to be flexible, and not tied in to one type of scheme,” he said at Local Digital's recent Local Digital Futures event.

They would also need to integrate with Ofsted’s system and payment systems, among others.

During that time, the development team had to make sure that the digital forms were compliant with government security requirements and resistant to fraud (the digital process involves applying for funding and capturing bank account information).

The end of ‘bad forms’

A small team made up of staff from Capita’s Central Government Service, Software Services, their Transformation team, and the Education Funding Agency were involved in the build and led user testing sessions to devise the solution for the three schemes.

This collaboration would prove vital when it came to meeting the needs of the “very diverse range of users” that the schemes serve, according to Knight.

The final digital application process is intuitive and stripped of information irrelevant to the user, as had been the case. Only questions pertinent to the user in question now appear on the digital forms.

Users access application forms via a secure portal, which uses Capita’s Advantage Digital software. They can check their progress as they fill in the form and webchat and online guidance pops up in a side box to assist users as they progress.

As part of broader efforts to inform applicants of the changes, the team made You Tube videos to explain how the new application forms work and email alerts and reminders are automatically sent to applicants.

The new form has completely eliminated the return of ‘bad forms’ says Knight – forms submitted with errors or incompletely – 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 provided “frequent but focused” communication to users, which, along with user testing feedback, has greatly contributed to the success of the project.

“The results already achieved by the EFA is testament to how Capita’s approach to partnership working and its use of intelligent technology can really help to transform clients’ services.

It’s adaptability and ease of deployment makes Advantage Digital a powerhouse in both the positive effect it can have on frontline service delivery and back office productivity behind the scenes.”

Chris White, head of Digital Solutions for Capita's Software Services.

The EFA's digital application process is powered by Advantage Digital

Find out more about the power of Advantage Digital in transforming services