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

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journal contribution
posted on 2015-05-01, 12:42 authored 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.


This work was supported by SKOPE, the Economic and Social Research Funding Council on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance [grant number RES-557-28-5003].



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment

Published in

Studies in Higher Education


ESSON, J. and ERTL, H., 2015. No point worrying? Potential undergraduates, study-related debt, and the financial allure of higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 41 (7), pp.1265-1280


Taylor and Francis / © Society for Research into Higher Education


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Studies in Higher Education on 11th November 2014, available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.968542




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