Project 5

Student loan debt and graduate decision-making

This project was a continuation of CGHE Project 2.4, ‘The effects of student loan debt on graduates’ financial and life decisions in the UK and USA.’ The aim of this project was to investigate the effects of student loan indebtedness on graduates’ lives in England.

About this project

With the expansion of undergraduate higher education (HE) in England successive governments since the 1990s have introduced cost-sharing policies – primarily higher tuition fees repaid by government-funded income-contingent student loans. These polices aim to shift more of the costs of higher education away from government and taxpayers on to students and their families. As study costs have risen, so has students’ reliance on student loans and their levels of debt on graduation.

This rebalancing of private and public contributions toward higher education costs, especially since the 2008 global recession, has led to growing concerns about the scale of graduate debt and loan recovery.

What is unknown are the longer-term implications of student loan indebtedness on graduates’ life choices, behaviour and wellbeing within the distinctive context of income-contingent loans. For instance, does student loan debt influence graduates’ labour market opportunities, their housing options, their decisions about marriage and family formation, and their mental wellbeing?

Globally, loans may be a necessary instrument for status attainment and social mobility, but locally, do loans undermine some of the purported wider economic and social benefits of higher education?

The key policy area this study addresses is student funding and finances, particularly student loans in England.


Claire Callender
IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society and Birkbeck
Claire Callender is Professor of Higher Education Studies at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. She is a Deputy Director of CGHE. Claire led on CGHE Project 5, ‘Student loan debt and graduate decision-making’ which explored the impact of income-contingent student loan debt on English graduates’ lives using both quantitative and qualitative methods. It showed how loan debt can have negative effects on graduates’ lives.
University of Twente

Ariane de Gayardon is Assistant Professor at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on the financing of higher education internationally and its interaction with equity, including topics such as free higher education and student debt.

Professor Stephen DesJardins
University of Michigan (US)
Stephen L. DesJardins is a Co-Investigator on CGHE Project 5, ‘Student loan debt and graduate decision-making’.


CGHE working papers

Additional publications