NEON is delighted to announce its new survey, in partnership with Universities UK. The report shows how students need clearer and more accurate information about tuition fees and student loan repayments to help them decide whether to apply for a university course, according to the new survey.
According to the survey of students, there is a lot of information available on the fees and student loan system in England, but it is often inaccessible and unclear. Universities UK has said that a “postcode lottery” has developed in terms of the financial advice available to prospective university students, with provision differing from one school and area to the next. Many of the myths and misunderstandings around the fees system, it said, risks putting people off due to unfounded concerns around costs and ‘debt’.
Universities UK is recommending that the government works in partnership with schools, universities and campaign groups to simplify the information on fees and loans and to ensure it is accessible to all prospective students. The report is backed by Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information 2011-2013. Universities UK plans to bring these groups together to discuss practical next steps.
The survey revealed that many students are not aware that the graduate contributions system differs to conventional ‘debt’. Focus groups found that students were not always aware, for example, that the amount graduates pay back each month for their student loan depends on what they earn, not on how much is borrowed. According to analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), only 17% of graduates – those in the highest earning jobs – will have fully repaid their loans by the time they are written off 30 years after graduation (under the new starting salary threshold of £25,000). Students are not aware generally that the vast majority of student loans receive a considerable, taxpayer-funded subsidy.
The survey and focus groups – conducted for Universities UK by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) and Portland Communications – suggested also that students want more information about how universities spend the income they receive from tuition fees.
Concerns around the student funding system in England, and its fairness and sustainability, have led to a review of post-18 education and funding, launched in February 2018 and due to conclude in early 2019.
The main findings from the report include:
• Prospective and undergraduate students need clearer and better-targeted financial advice on the full implications of taking out a student loan
• Prospective students are uncertain what universities spend tuition fee income on
• Living costs are a more significant concern for current undergraduate students than the level of tuition fees
• There was strong agreement that going to university generally helps graduates to earn more money in the longer term (64% of prospective students and 77% of undergraduate students)
• More than half of students believed that they should make some contribution to the cost of their education.
“This study, which builds on work that NEON has been doing with prospective students over the last four years on student finance, shows that it is crucial that we adopt a more systematic approach to supporting students in making decisions regarding entry into higher education. There is a need for a student finance curriculum developed with students, which outlines what they need to know about student finance at each point as they progress through school and college. This curriculum would provide a common framework within which universities, schools and voluntary sector organisations can deliver the more comprehensive information, advice and guidance on student finance and money management they so clearly need.”
Dr Graeme Atherton, Director, NEON