44% of young people believe they need to pay tuition fees in advance before taking up a place at university, according to research conducted by the University of Roehampton.
The findings show that the government has failed to adequately explain the intricacies of the incoming loan repayment system to school leavers, and that a significant minority of young people are not receiving the necessary education on student finance they need to make a decision on university with confidence.
On the other hand, alongside figures showing that new applicants to university fell by 15,000 this year (and 20,000 in 2011), the data suggests that a certain proportion of would-be students are aware that enrolling in higher education is an expensive undertaking that saddles them with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt.
Some school leavers are understandably shocked at the thought of taking on massive debts without the guaranteed prospect of a well-paid job at the end of their studies. However, the mechanics of the loan repayment system and the nature of the debt itself mean that repayments really do resemble tax contributions more than anything else. A student loan does not affect an individual’s credit rating or count against them when they seek to borrow from high street banks.
Clearly, while increased fees have undoubtedly discouraged thousands from taking up courses who would have done otherwise, thousands more have not applied out of a simple misunderstanding of the loan system.
Plans to rebrand student loan repayments as a ‘tax’ may remove some of the stigma surrounding the current regime. However, this alone would not remove the psychological barriers preventing some from taking up tertiary education
Fabian research on public attitudes to tax and spending demonstrate that support for less taxation, or at least static levels of taxation, is fairly even across age cohorts. Asking school leavers to pay more in tax if they go to university may serve as effective a deterrent from pursuing tertiary education as the current system.
In light of this evidence, policymakers would do well to revise the vocabulary surrounding tuition fees and remove some of the stigma surrounding words like debt, fees, and tax. We must remove the fear of financing university education from young people’s decision-making when it comes to their crucial next steps in life.
Louie Woodall is Assistant Editor of the Young Fabians Blog