UK students applying for a loan via the Student Loans Company (SLC) will have their personal Facebook page scrutinized to determine whether they qualify for funding.
This comes after it was revealed that during the summer 150 applicants were spied on after applying for full maintenance loans due to being estranged from their families.
This isn’t the first time that Facebook has been used to snoop on students either. But, this latest operation has been heavily criticized by leading British MPs.
A group of MPs, including Labour MP Ian Mears, and Conservative MP Robert Halfon likened the SLC’s vetting process to the KGB. The surveillance is “sinister, KGB knock-on-the-door” tactics, they stated. One example of the SLC’s Facebook trawling included a student who was denied a full maintenance loan due to their Facebook page revealing they had had interaction with their mother.
“We’re talking a £70 Christmas present, for goodness sake, not an ongoing financial commitment,” Ian Mears told chair of the SLC, Christian Brodie. But, Brodie claims that the organization has acted in the best interests of the public. “We have a duty to make sure that the taxpayers’ funds are being properly disbursed,” he said.
The financial impact of student loans
The UK parliament reports that more than $16 billion is loaned each year to students. Debt in the UK currently sits at £1,720.1 billion. Meanwhile, The Independent reports that the average graduate will owe £60,000 30 years post-graduation.
Therefore, the SLC appears to be doing all they can to limit the financial impact that student loans have on the government. One of the most effective ways students can reduce their debt is to regularly monitor the interest rates of their loans. Refinancing student loans is often a wise choice when a more favorable interest rate is available. Meanwhile, loans with a fixed interest rate are often preferred as they allow students to budget their repayments more effectively as they don’t fluctuate.
Public sources of information
One thing students should take away from the revelation that the SLC regularly scours social media sites is the need to utilize privacy settings. Brodie states that “if people have public sources of information about themselves then they must expect that will be looked at”.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced it would make amending privacy settings easier. Therefore, students should actively check and maintain their settings to prevent unwanted individuals and organizations from finding out personal information about them.
Unsuspecting UK students are being declined loans as a result of their social media data being inspected by the SLC. The body involved claim it’s in the best interest of the public. However, students with a desire to enhance their education are losing out as a result.