Government lowers student loan repayment cap

With media attention understandably focussed elsewhere, last week’s Government response to

the Augar Review on Higher Education (in England) has largely passed by unnoticed. It’s also getting on for three years since the Review was published! Arguing for more ‘value for money’ from the HE sector, Augar’s real aim (like the Tories) real aim, is to reduce student numbers (link below).

But in its response the government says it

  • will reduce the salary level that students begin to repay their loans and extend the period of repayment
  • consult over minimum qualification requirements for entering university

Reducing the earnings cap. from £27,295 to £25,000, and increase the write-off period for student loans from 30 to 40 years, will affect students starting university next year. This has been justified by government as necessary to reduce pressure on the national debt, but as the Institute for Fiscal studies rightly observes

While under the current system, only around a quarter can expect to repay their loans in full, more than 60% can expect to repay under the new system. This is partly due to substantially higher lifetime repayments by students with low and middling earnings and partly due to less interest being accumulated on loans. The long-run benefit for the taxpayer will be modest at around £1 billion per cohort of university entrants, as higher repayments by borrowers with low or middling earnings will be mostly offset by lower repayments of high-earning borrowers.

But in many other respects Augar has been overtaken by the Skills for Jobs White Paper. This seeks to establish new higher level technical vocational qualifications in FE colleges, awarded through the Institute of Apprenticeships, which young people will be encouraged to move on to after completing T-levels. (link below)

Those opting for the new higher level technical qualifications -the first of which will be announced shortly, will be able to apply for Lifelong Learning Entitlements. Government is also consulting on the exact nature of these – but like with higher education, they will take the form of loans, paid back in similar fashion.

All of these initiatives are based on assumptions that there will be a raft of well-paid technical jobs in the future, alongside those available to traditional graduates. Though neither Skills for Jobs or Augar provide any real example of this. As with Augar, the real aim is to reduce the size of the university sector.

There will certainly be a demand for a knowledge rich technological/AI informed elite, but not everybody will need to be a computer programmer(!) More will be destined for low paid, low skilled employment in new personal services industries like retail and care. Besides, technological knowledge changes so quickly that it is likely to be out of date by the time a student enters the workplace. On the contrary, many argue that more workers will be ‘deskilled’ as automation expands. Rather than upwards mobility, more will be pushed down.

Laying down minimal qualification requirements (it’s been reported as 5 GCSEs and 2 A levels) ostensibly to reduce student numbers will only prevent many adults and ‘mature’ students entering HE. Almost all school leavers applying through UCAS have these.

As the chart below indicates, despite the fees, school leavers will continue to flock to university as security against an increasingly uncertain future and the failure, at so far, of alternative routes.

Covid has only intensified this trend.

2 thoughts on “Government lowers student loan repayment cap

  1. The new measures will only apply to those entering undergraduate HE who were domiciled in England at point of entry.

    Graduates who are living in Scotland at the time of their entry to HE are unaffected – so far – and of course will have no £9kpa fee loan to pay off and thus much lower amounts of debt.

    However because the UK government controls the fiscal flow of funding into the Scottish government and the Barnett formula links it to public spending in England only which includes the write off of student loans, this will put huge fiscal pressures on the Scottish Government over a long time. This is therefore a further slow ‘drip-drip’ of pressure to undermine the devolution of HE agreed in 1998.

    The consequence of this is that it will accelerate the support for Scottish Independence, as it is pointed out that every other European state does not have this type of HE funding system and largely pays for HE out of general taxation. This consequence is less immediate than that of the UK government’s recent unilaterally immediate pulling of Scotland (and Wales) out of the ERASMUS+ mobility programme or the decision not to fund Covid testing in Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland), but is nonetheless fiscally significant.

    Given that some 75% of young people already support Scottish Independence as the main route out of these regressive policies of English Conservatism, the question is what impact it will have on their parents and grandparents who are probably more divided? It’s probably likely to be yet another nail in the coffin of the continuing existence of the UK state.

    The UCAS data used largely highlights what is happening with HE participation in England, as it is the numerically dominant country within the UK, but is meaningless for forming an opinion about HE in Scotland as one third of HE is outside the universities/UCAS – in the form of the large numbers on more vocational/skills oriented HNC/D courses in Colleges that are outside the UCAS system but have generally good and expanding articulation to years 3/4 of BA degrees.

  2. Sorry I should have said “BA/BSc/etc honours degrees” in the last phrase about Scottish College-University articulation, though in my experience the majority of articulation is actually to BA honours degrees in business, social sciences and vocational/creative arts disciplines particularly in the post-92 universities where it can constitute a significant share of entry cohorts. In many other disciplines, particularly sciences/engineering/construction, a College HNC/D is a valid and well recognised qualification in its own right. Nursing is a special case, as three year ‘ordinary’ degrees predominate, though there are also a few 2+1, 1+2 and 4 year routes (and of course nursing students split their time 50/50 between campus/NHS anyway).

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