Friday, 7 October 2016

Expressions of student debt aversion and tolerance among academically able young people in low-participation English schools

an article by Steven Jones (University of Manchester, UK) published in British Educational Research Journal Volume 42 Issue 2 (April 2016)


The 2012 rise in student fees, from £3375 to £9000 per year, made England one of the costliest places to attend university in the world. Drawing on evidence from higher attaining young people attending low-participation schools, this paper renews established types of student debt aversion and tolerance, with sensitivity towards whether they reflect the (financial) ‘price’ of participation or the (cultural, social) ‘cost’ of participation.

Findings point to a complex web of inter-related factors informing a decision-making process that is rational, but often lacking detailed knowledge of key variables, such as the range of bursaries and grants available and the terms of the loan repayment.

The Ellsburg Paradox is invoked to explain the tendency of some young people to self-exclude, contrary to rational choice theory. For those without family support or precedent, participation is not greatly incentivised by assumed lifestyle and identity gains, and generous repayment concessions for low-earning graduates do not necessarily ease anxiety about debt.

Data point to a heightened awareness of labour market alternatives and of continued disquiet, both academic and non-academic, about ‘fitting in’ at university. Naturally, higher fees demand a recalculation of return-on-investment estimates for all young people. However, the participation ‘bet’ of those from low-participation schools is framed in ways unacknowledged by (and sometimes discordant with) dominant public discourses.

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