Category Archives: Economics

US Elections: messing with the small print won’t address the issue of student debt

by Richard Murphy

Higher education finance might be the last thing on America’s minds when they cast their votes on Tuesday. However, the fact that both candidates have set out plans to reform the US’ student loan repayment schemes is perhaps indicative of the importance of this issue in the US. The problem is, both candidates are just messing with the small print, and their plans which will do very little to help graduates struggling with student debt.

Trump intends to push for an income-driven repayment plan that would increase the level of the payments students have to make (by increasing the cap on payments from 10 to 12.5 percent of income) but reduce the repayment period to 15 years from its current period of 20-25 years (depending on the scheme). Meanwhile Clinton has endorsed the current plans, with the caveat that she aims to simplify the number of plans.

But will these proposals help students who are struggling with their loan repayment? The short answer is no.

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Degrees benefit society – even when students don’t get ‘graduate jobs’

by Francis Green and Golo Henseke

Every few weeks, a new report emerges raising concerns about the graduate labour market in Britain.

Only recently in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) came out with a plea for a halt to the expansion drive in higher education. Earlier in the summer, an Institute for Fiscal Studies report, while noting that the graduate earnings premium had been steady (or increasing, even) for many years, warned that the future might not be so bright.

Indeed, there seems to be growing concern that, maybe, higher education has expanded to the limit over the past 20 years and can take no more. So, should governments be worried about the underemployment of graduates – that is, graduates doing supposedly non-graduate jobs?

Our short answer to this question is: “Yes, but…” Let us explain why.

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The myth of over-education

The fear that we are over-educating our population is not a new concept.

Back in 1963, when only 1 in every 100 people went to university full-time, policymakers were already convinced that any expansion of the sector would result in an over-supply of graduates – many of whom were incapable of benefiting from higher education – and the inevitable falling wage premium (Barr, 2014).

Fast forward 50 years, with nearly 40% of young people enrolling in university (BIS, 2014), and here we are, still having the same argument. A report issued today by the CIPD argues that the number of graduates has now “significantly outstripped” the creation of high-skilled jobs, and that over-qualification at “saturation point”. This has led to calls for the government to encourage alternatives to university, and for our young people to think twice about going to university.

But do we really have too many graduates?

Whilst there are many ways to answer this question, simple economics can help us here.

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Paying for higher education – what are the parties proposing?

By Gill Wyness  (UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, and EconomicsofHE)

The UK has dramatically increased the supply of graduates over the last four decades. The proportion of workers with higher education has risen from only 4.7 per cent in 1979 to 28.5 per cent in 2011. Rather than this enormous increase in supply reducing the value of a degree, the pay of graduates relative to non-graduates has risen over the same period: from 39 per cent to 56 per cent for men and from 52 per cent to 59 per cent for women. This implies a strong and continuing employer demand for education. Continue reading →

Would capping student fees at £6,000 be as damaging as universities make out?

By Gill Wyness (UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, and EconomicsofHE)

Labour’s much anticipated but yet-to-be confirmed policy to reduce the cap on university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year will be highly expensive, could leave universities £10 billion out of pocket – and would only help richer graduates. That, at least, has been the tone of a growing chorus of alarm sounding ahead of what might be one of Ed Miliband’s key pre-election pledges.

Universities are right to be concerned – they may well lose money out of this policy. It also appears a somewhat opportunistic move by Labour to please a proportion of the electorate. But despite this, there are reasons why the policy should not be totally condemned.

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