For ever in their debt (2 of 2)

September 13, 2012

I am still trying to understand the implications of the student loans scheme for part-time and distance students in England. According to the DirectGov website's advice to such students: "You don't start repaying your loan until your income is over £21,000. Repayments start in the April four years after your course starts or the April after you leave your course, whichever comes first."

This may present a serious problem for part-time and distance students who will therefore be required to start repayments (if they qualify on income) probably well before they graduate and gain benefit from the graduate premium.

It may present an even more serious problem for the nearly 60 per cent of part-time students and the nearly 80 per cent of The Open University students who never graduate (according to Higher Education Funding Council for England data). Such students will never benefit from the graduate premium but will still be required to repay whatever loan they took out to start their studies.

As a large proportion (up to 30 per cent) of the students who do not graduate drop out in their first year of study, they will find themselves liable to repay their loans only a year later (although I gather that 2016 is currently the earliest date when loans become repayable, so there is breathing space at present: will that breathing space disappear?).

Of course, there is still a problem for the nearly 20 per cent of full-time students who fail to graduate and may become liable to repay their loans without the benefit of the graduate premium (possibly a problem for governments that won't receive future income from such students). But part-time and distance students seem to me to be particularly vulnerable.

I hope my interpretation is wrong - can anyone let me know?

Ormond Simpson, Visiting fellow, Centre for Distance Education, University of London International Programmes

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