UCAS, the UK’s primary university admissions service, has agreed to stop advertising private loans (i.e. loans from commercial firms, not from government Student Finance) to students following pressure from the consumer finance expert Martin Lewis and a rebuke from the Charity Commission.
Martin Lewis, of the group Money Saving Expert, has previously called UCAS ‘tainted’ for marketing financial loans to 18 year-old college students who had subscribed to their mailing lists; one such provider offered up to £40,000.
UCAS has since announced that its media subsidiary will temporarily stop working with private loan companies while it establishes a new advisory board to review the current state of the ‘markets’ and vet its policies and advertising framework accordingly. They have commented:
It is clear funding options are continuing to evolve and the cost of living while at university is a key consideration for students. It is our responsibility to help students understand and navigate all their choices.
As this is a developing market, we listen to feedback from students and valued colleagues across the education and financial sectors, including Money Saving Expert, to ensure we provide students with appropriate choices, including those that are commercially available. Based on that feedback, we decided to pause our activity with private loans companies, and no further activity is currently planned.
Martin Lewis has praised UCAS’ decision, stating:
When the UCAS chief executive agreed to meet me on this, we had a robust meeting, where I let them know in no uncertain terms what I thought about a charity – with a near-monopoly communication position with young students – promoting expensive high-cost debt to students. The fact it has agreed to pause the adverts is a great start – and we are thankful UCAS’s senior team are willing to listen.
Half of UCAS’ income is generated by its commercial media subsidiary (UCAS Media), which it uses to keep down application fees. The service currently charges students £25 for applying to two or more universities or colleges, making over £14 million from such fees last year. Meanwhile, UCAS Media reported an income of £19 million, with profits of £4.3m paid to UCAS through gift aid. The company has previously been warned by the Charity Commission over this relationship, who cited that charities (such as UCAS) maintain important positions of trust in society, thus independence must be maintained from non-charitable subsidies (i.e. UCAS Media) so their message and image that they are ‘here to help’ is made clear.