Labour’s better-than-expected showing in the General Election was less to do with its success among current students than with recent graduates in the process of paying off their student loans. This was only the beginning of the clout that indebted millennials might begin to have on higher education policy. Graduates of both the £3,000 and £9,000 fee systems are now entering the labour market and beginning to feel the effects of their monthly loan repayments. If they are not, it may be because higher education has not managed to offer the earnings returns that they might once have expected.
Since the election two major policy interventions have only further drawn attention to the power that graduates’ labour market outcomes might have on universities’ political position. Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, or ‘LEO’ for short, enables the public (and the government) to understand how much graduates of different university courses are earning. It’s heading to TEF from next year and might even form the basis of a new tuition fee policy to be announced in the Budget.
Meanwhile, an Institute for Fiscal Studies model of the student loans system has found that three-quarters of graduates will not pay their loans back in full. With the consensus on university funding looking shaky, the travails of loan-repaying graduates have never been more important or influential on policy.