Loans system can’t go on like this, senior figures say

The new student loans system designed by the government to support higher tuition fees is “unsustainable in the long term”, according to a survey of senior figures in higher education conducted by Barclays.

June 16, 2012

The poll, of 46 higher education professionals, was carried out at a “Future of Higher Education” debate hosted by the bank, which brought together experts from finance, government and the sector itself.

Barclays said the survey found that 76 per cent of those questioned “did not believe the new system of repayable grants was sustainable”. And “just 15 per cent were confident it could be maintained”. The rest were unsure.

The government has said it that plans to explore the possibility of selling the student loan book to private sector buyers.

Chris Hearn, head of education at Barclays Corporate, said: “There will become a point when the size of the student finance book will need to be addressed, probably within the next five to 10 years, but I’m confident a solution will be found.”

The Barclays survey follows an interview by Mr Hearn with Times Higher Education, in which he said that the new undergraduate finance scheme “is attracting interest, and proper interest, this time – rather than the old scheme, which was just effectively [keeping pace with] inflation – it may be that there are elements of it that could be sold”.

Survey respondents agreed that the new undergraduate loans system was confusing – 84 per cent said that prospective undergraduates and their parents had not yet grasped how student finance works and what it will mean for them financially.

On the impact of the new system on postgraduate students, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of those higher education professionals surveyed said they expected the number of postgraduates at their institution to fall. A further 22 per cent said that they did not expect numbers to be affected, while the remaining 11 per cent were not sure.

Mr Hearn has also told THE that Barclays was exploring with the government the possibility of providing finance for postgraduates.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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