Tuition debt scares poor students from going to college - study
Lumni has enabled 10,000 students in five countries to gain higher education and get a job during the last 15 years.Source: Shutterstock

For youths from low-income households, getting a college degree is like being caught in a Catch-22 situation. You need a degree to escape poverty, but getting a degree also means getting into tuition fee debt, which in turn drags this group further down the income bracket.

Such debt is putting off students from poor backgrounds from applying to universities, a new study by the UCL Institute of Education found, as reported by the BBC.

“Working-class young people are far more likely than students from other social classes to avoid applying to university because of debt fears,” one of the researchers, Claire Callender, said.

The researchers studied the attitudes of prospective students applying to English universities in 2002 and 2015, during which tuition fees increased from around £1,100 (US$1,419) per year to £9,000 (US$11,584).

While university applications have increased across all backgrounds despite this rise in cost, youngsters from poorer backgrounds are found to be more averse to applying to university despite getting the same grades as their wealthier peers.

And the aversion was found to be even greater in 2015.

“Student funding and fear of debt play a role. University enrollments may be increasing overall but policymakers must focus on ways to level the playing field for poorer students,” Callender said.

Not everyone shares Callender’s views, however. Universities UK (UUK), an organisation that advocates for British universities, believes the current fee system should stay, saying “those from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to enter university than ever before”.

“It is important to remember it is high-earning graduates who benefit the most from a policy of no fees – under tuition fees they would repay their entire student loans.

“Removing fees benefits those who go on to earn the most, while having little or no impact on lower earners,” a UUK spokesman said.

Recent studies have shown students in the UK are increasingly cash-strapped, and have had to forego nutritious meals to have enough money to survive in college.

Addressing this issue head-on is the UK’s Labour Party election manifesto, promising free tuition to all undergraduates starting their courses this September, if it wins the general election.

“The policies in Labour’s manifesto have electrified this election campaign: there’s a buzz around my sixth form and on the streets when I’m out campaigning,” Eli Aldridge, an 18-year-old A-Level student who is running as a Labour candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale, wrote in an article for The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will continue with a system of fees and loans. The Tories also recently pushed through a controversial bill which will allow universities to increase tuition fees according to inflation for every year until 2020.

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