By Sue Bailey
"We're always looking to see where the problems are occurring," Barbour said in an interview. "And as we get that information, I work with the service provider to see what we can do."
Prime Minister Paul Martin has earmarked higher learning as a top national priority, but student groups have attacked his government's related track record.
Ottawa took over the $1.5-billion-a-year student loans program in 2000 after several banks pulled out, citing undisclosed losses.
EDULINX Canada Corp. of Mississauga, Ont., was hired to manage public-institution loans for the government.
A spokesman for the company deferred to Barbour when contacted about service complaints.
Current and former students bitterly cite lost forms, misinformation from operators at the EDULINX call centre, and lack of consistent service.
Horror stories are shared on such websites such as www.canadastudentdebt.ca
, an electronic repository of seething frustration. The site gets anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hits a week, says founder and student-debt activist Mark O'Meara.
JOB HUNTER'S TOP 10|
Job seekers who believe they can spend a few hours a week searching for their next opportunity are fooling themselves. Searching for your next job is a job in itself -- it takes time, planning and commitment.
Attend to the basics. Begin with self-assessment: learn more about yourself -- your motivations, values, interests, skills.
Review your options -- write them down.
Prepare or update your resume.
Access resources. Check your local library/employment centre for resources on career planning, job search techniques, preparing for a job interview, work alternatives, financial support and learning.
Develop a support network. Identify family and friends who are supportive.
Build that network. Use community support services -- join a job search group.
Solicit information about career choice.
Develop a plan. Explore potential barriers. Develop a plan to overcome potential barriers. Decide which option to pursue. Establish goals and develop an action plan.
Stay on course/stay motivated. Make the changes necessary to make it happen. Be true to your future. Look ahead -- not back.
Keep a journal -- use a notebook or loose-leaf binder to document your daily activities. Be sure to document who you've connected with, where you've applied, and all contacts you have made in your job search.
Kelly Sudsbury is the senior employment equity consultant for CIBC
Even the most conscientious clients have been lost in a sea of red tape through no fault of their own, he said. "They need to have a process where mistakes can be rectified quickly. There's no such thing. The damage done to your credit rating is instantaneous but it takes two to three years to fix it."
Judy Dyck, president of the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, has heard it all. "Customer service has gone downhill since Ottawa took over the program," she said from her University of Winnipeg office.
Problems are most intense in September and January when university and college terms begin, she said.
Financial aid officers are often "stuck with crying, very upset students in their offices who are desperately waiting for money for rent, food and the basics of life.
"And then when one calls to figure out what the problem is, every time you have to begin with a new person and start the story all over again. You'll get a request for slightly different documentation than . . . the previous time. You send that in, and there's still a delay."
Lack of training for student loan operators seems to be a major problem, Dyck said.
Lack of training
"If they're not 100 per cent trained and 100 per cent clear, they start confusing the students incredibly."
Barbour, of Human Resources, said the government has tried to ensure consistent service by stressing "excellent note-taking" by operators. That way, there's a running record so clients aren't starting from scratch when they call in again, she said.
A former EDULINX worker said operators are pressured to handle as many as 11 calls per hour, allowing less than six minutes per call. That leaves little time for note-taking or complete service, said the ex-employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Misinformation is given out "constantly," said the source, citing lack of training and performance pressures. Operators can get help from a computerized database or a helpline but the process is slow, added the worker.
"My heart goes out to a lot of these students because they're not being given the full information."
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