Students are ostrich-like when it comes to debt

January 2, 2004

The main reason tuition fees have failed to put students off university is because of their head-in-the-sand approach to finances, a study suggests.

Research by academics at Heriot-Watt University, indicates that government plans to better educate would-be students about the costs and benefits of university under its proposed top-up fees system could backfire as eyes are opened to the realities of debt.

Hazel Christie and Moira Munro say that policy on student finance is based on an assumption that students will be willing to bear the costs of their education because of anticipated benefits.

But their investigation of some 50 students in Edinburgh found that none had taken “a carefully weighed decision” about the probable balance.

“Our work suggests that better prior knowledge would have dissuaded some from making the choices that they made. In particular, better knowledge is likely to work against government policy of widening access,” the paper says.

Dr Christie and Professor Munro found that those who had gained information from recent graduates realised that the immediate financial rewards of a degree were not high.

The majority, most of whom had limited parental support, had not anticipated taking out a student loan. But they found they had no other option because they had underestimated living costs.

The research paper is published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education .

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