In a recent analysis, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has highlighted a concerning financial outlook for student loans in England, indicating an anticipated annual cost surge of £11 billion for the government. The primary driver behind this substantial increase is the higher interest rates, significantly elevating the overall borrowing expenses.
The IFS report underlines that this substantial additional cost is not being accurately reflected in the official government measures of student loan expenses. Consequently, over £10 billion in potential losses are not captured in the official figures.
Traditionally, the government faced financial losses on unrecovered loans, but profits were generated from those repaid in full. However, the current scenario paints a different picture. The IFS suggests that even fully repaid loans are likely to result in substantial losses for the government. This is attributed to the interest rate on government debt surpassing that charged on student loans.
Ben Waltmann, one of the authors of the report, expressed concern over the £10.5 billion extra costs, emphasizing that this sum represents a significant portion of school spending in England. He suggested that there might be a case for considering higher future student loan interest rates, although acknowledging the political challenges associated with such a move.
The IFS analysis sheds light on the growing apprehension regarding the sustainability of the higher education funding system and the increasing burden of debt on students. These issues are expected to be central topics of discussion leading up to the general election.
While past debates focused on the repayment share and taxpayer burden of student loans, the IFS report redirects attention to the government’s financing costs of these loans. The cost of government borrowing, as measured by the 15-year gilt yield, has risen significantly over the past two years, prompting concerns about the financial implications.
With the interest rate on student loans now aligned with the Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation rate, the government faces a 1.6 percentage point increase in interest expenses on its debt compared to the interest rate charged on student loans. This is a noteworthy shift from the situation two years ago when the government expected to pay 1.4 percentage points less than the RPI inflation rate.
Waltmann stressed that substantial interest rate increases have profound consequences for the funding of student loans. While the government previously anticipated making profits on repaid loans, the current scenario indicates a substantial loss even on fully repaid loans.
Responding to these concerns, a government spokesperson emphasized their efforts to freeze maximum tuition fees to provide better value for students and taxpayers. The spokesperson highlighted the government’s commitment to making difficult decisions to control inflation, resisting calls for higher spending and borrowing. As the debate on the sustainability of student loans continues, the financial future of higher education funding remains a topic of intense scrutiny and discussion.