Students ‘could save £40K’ by cancelling gap years before reforms

Potential for ‘mass cancellation of gap years’ in rush for 2022 entry as finance expert warns 2023 starters could face huge hike in costs

March 23, 2022
Lady adjusts the clock at the top of the Old State House to illustrate Students ‘could save £40K’ if they cancel gap years before reforms
Source: Getty

Students who can bring forward their entry to English universities from autumn 2023 to this year could save up to £40,000 over their working lives, making a year out “a very expensive deal”, according to consumer finance expert Martin Lewis, and raising the prospect of a late rush for 2022 entry.

The potentially huge difference in costs under student finance changes for 2023 entrants, announced by ministers last month, could mean that universities see a last-minute rush for 2022 entry from students cancelling gap years.

A year of higher student numbers for universities in 2022 followed by a drop-off in 2023 would be something akin to the situation of 2011, when some students moved entry forward to avoid being hit by the trebling of tuition fees in 2012.

From September 2023, for new borrowers, the repayment threshold will be lowered from £27,295 to £25,000 and the repayment term extended from 30 years to 40 years. Another change for autumn 2023 starters is the lowering of interest rates so loan balances increase only with the retail price index measure of inflation, a change that will benefit the highest earners.

All this raises a clear question of whether students with the option to bring forward their entry from autumn 2023 to 2022 should think about doing so.

“It is absolutely a question everybody in that position should be asking themselves,” Mr Lewis, the Money Saving Expert founder with his own ITV show, who has become a key voice on student finance and influence on ministers, told Times Higher Education.

He said he hoped that every student going to university would be “going for the right reasons, going to do the right course and to do what’s right for you – I would look at that ahead of the finances”.

“But if everything else is equal, then the finances come into play,” he added.

For the lowest earners, a 2022 or 2023 start “doesn’t make that much difference”, while the highest earners will be “better off going in 2023”, Mr Lewis continued.

“Then you’ve got everybody else, which is the mainstream,” ranging from lower to middle and “mid-high” earners, he said.

“Those people will find the current system will cost them substantially less than the new system,” Mr Lewis continued. “In some cases, they could pay half [in repayments over their working lives] by going to university in September 2022 than September 2023.”

He added: “If everything else is equal, then taking a year out could be a very, very expensive deal. There are clearly people out there who by taking a year out, rather than going to university when they can now [in September 2022], will be paying over their lifetime £30,000 to £40,000 more.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said his “best guess is that the mass cancellation of gap years that occurred in 2012 will be repeated, at least in part”.

While some students may not appreciate the scale of the changes, “others are likely to sit down and work out how much more they are likely to pay under the new rules and to be dissuaded from a gap year, especially if their parents or their teachers are fans of Martin Lewis”, he continued.

Mr Hillman added: “For universities which have been preparing for a gradual annual growth in the number of 18-year-olds, it will disrupt their planning if there is an extra bumper crop of students in 2022 followed by a blip in 2023.”


Print headline: Students ‘could save £40K’ if they cancel gap years before reforms

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Reader's comments (1)

I am rather skeptical of savings such as these since the timescale is too long for any assumptions to hold. Moreover, averaging over long periods means that the impact year by year is not as great. Also, the year out itself may lead to higher earnings that cancel out the loss if it entails gaining useful work experience. The key phrase is “If everything else is equal," because it never is - if I had tried to predict my future life at 18, I would have got most things wrong.