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Publication Detail
Hidden Voices: Graduates’ Perspectives on the Student Loan System in England
Since the 1990s England’s higher education funding system has been reformed many times, leading to a system predicated on high tuition fees and student loans. In 2021, there are once again debates about how to build a sustainable and fair funding system, while reducing public expenditure on higher education. Yet these debates are missing something essential: the voices of graduates. Graduates have distinctive and personal knowledge and understanding of the realities of repaying student loans and how the different features of the loan shape the burden of their student debt. This research is based on the thematic analysis of 98 in-depth semi-structured interviews with English graduates – 48 of whom were subject to the 2006 funding regime (cohort 1) and 50 to the 2012 regime (cohort 2). The results provide much needed insights into graduates’ perspectives of, and feelings about, the English student loan system and its different features. Graduates experience student loan debt as a burden, albeit to different degrees. In cohort 2 especially, it is a more pressing concern – something they think about a lot and that causes stress and anxiety. In both cohorts the sheer size of their debts weighs upon graduates’ minds while the repayments feel endless, and their outstanding debt seems ever-growing because of the accrued interest. For those in cohort 2 the psychological burden of debt is exacerbated by the knowledge they will likely never repay their debt. However, even among those who are able to push their debt to the back of their minds or appear indifferent to it, there are strong negative emotional responses when reminded of the scale of their debt.
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