Untangling the tuition fee knot

Branwen Jeffreys
Education Editor
@branwenjeffreyson Twitter

studentImage source, Getty Images

Who pays for your student loans?

If you're a student in England who's just taken one out, or a recent graduate staring at your monthly statement, you'll answer "I do".

The public debate about whether students are taking on too much debt has led to a big review of how to pay for your education beyond the age of 18.

Tuition fees in England have become a knotty political problem.

And there's more than one group of people trying to untangle it at the moment.

Back to that question of who pays.

How much you repay as a graduate depends on how much you earn - 9% of everything over £25,000 a year.

So most people will never fully repay their debt, that's how the system is designed.

When loans get written off in 30 years' time the taxpayer picks up the bill.

So should that be recorded as government spending?

That's a question being asked by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

If they say yes - it will change the way the government accounts for student loans in its accounts.

The ONS might decide that the amount of money that eventually gets written off should be counted as current spending.

And that will have an impact on the wider review of how post-18 study should be funded.

One of the ideas being considered is lower headline tuition fees for some courses, those that cost less to deliver such as humanities and business courses.

Image source, Getty Images

Universities get most of their funding now from tuition fees, so that gap would have to be plugged somehow.

But if - by looking at the complex accounting - the ONS decides the government is footing the bill anyway that might be more possible than it might seem in an era of tight public finances.

Some university vice-chancellors have worried that lower headline fees for students on some courses might also signal a potential return to a cap on numbers of places but government sources have ruled this out.

The funding review won't report now until sometime early in 2019 when it's had a chance to chew over the complicated finances.

But also some of the other big problems in the system that many people think need fixing, like how better support study on a technical or vocational route and those who want to study part-time.