The benefits of higher education include better access to jobs, a rewarding social life, and the opportunity to live independently. But there’s no denying that the costs are also significant: university tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year quickly mount up. By running finance workshops in schools, the HE Partnership project aims to tackle the fear of debt which can be a barrier to staying on in education.
You need the truth and the facts about university so that you can make good decisions when the time comes.
Wendy Barnes, IAG Co-Ordinator, Ely Community College.
“Tuition fee debt is different to normal debt” explains Matt Diston, co-ordinator of the HE Partnership programme. “When I ask students about debt they mention repossession and they mention bailiffs. It’s really important for them to understand why these rules don’t apply to tuition fee loans.”
At Ely College, IAG Co-Ordinator Wendy Barnes introduces the session to Year 9 students: “Matt’s here to tell you the facts,” she explains. “You need the truth and the facts about university so that you can make good decisions when the time comes.”
The students work in small groups to brainstorm their ideas about how much university will cost and the different ways people pay for it.
“So we owe the Government £27,000 – how do we feel?” Matt asks the class, after a discussion of the real costs of university.
Scared, some say. It feels like a trick.
Some see it as a good deal. “What you get for it – that’s all right, though. You can get more money for your job.”
“And if you’ve done university you’ve got a better chance of getting a job,” his classmate agrees.
Matt explains that repayments are based on income. If you don’t earn more than £21,000, you don’t have to repay the loan. Some find this reassuring, though others are shocked. “It’s not fair – what about the lazy people? We could work hard and pay it back, and they won’t – that would be really unfair.”
“What if I never earn more than £21,000, for the next 30 years,” one student asks. This gives Matt a chance to remind the group that, since the average graduate starting salary is around £25,000, staying under the repayment threshold for a whole career might be a challenge.
Some minds turn to cunning plans to escape repayment. “What if I go and hide from the taxman abroad?” To the Cayman Islands, to Australia, to Afghanistan...”They will find you,” says Matt. “And then there’s a special house with bars on the windows they’ll take you to – that might be a bit extreme, just to get out of repaying a student loan!”
“What if I fake my own death?” asks another creative individual. “Again – possibly a bit overkill!” Matt responds - It’s your loan and you’re responsible for paying it back. It can’t be passed on to another member of your family and it can’t be inherited if you get hit by a bus.”
“There might be a million reasons not to go to university, but we don’t want you to say ‘I’m not going to go because I don’t have the money’,” Matt concludes.
“For you guys, it doesn’t matter if you’re from a single parent family, or if your dad is Sir Alan Sugar. You’re all entitled to the full cost of your course as a loan, rather than having to pay it up front.
“You are entitled to this help if you choose it.”
HE Partnership is a collaborative project continuing the University of Cambridge’s work with local schools initiated under Aimhigher. There is a particular focus within the programme on younger learners.