No point worrying? Potential undergraduates, study-related debt, and the financial allure of higher education

2015-05-01T12:42:00Z (GMT) by James Esson Hubert Ertl
As of September 2012, the undergraduate tuition fee cap at English universities was raised from £3375 to £9000 per annum. This article explores the rationales underpinning prospective students' decision whether or not to apply to higher education following the fee increase, specifically, how this decision is influenced by perceptions of study-related debt and expected earnings. The article draws on data obtained from prospective undergraduates in year 13 and conceptualises their decision-making using the notion of ‘bounded rationality’. The data show that participant's primary response to the fee increase and associated study-related debt is that ‘there is no point worrying’. This is because in the short term, a higher education degree is considered vital to securing employment in a competitive labour market. In the long term, there is a perception that the income contingent nature of student loan repayments makes the Treasury, not the student, liable for any resultant financial losses.