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Writing off graduate debt would cost £80bn less than claimed, but only high earners would gain, says IFS

The long term cost of writing off graduate debt would be up to £80 billion lower than some politicians and commentators have claimed, an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The IFS dismissed suggestions that government debt would rise by £100 billion if it wrote off loans taken out by graduates who paid £9,000 a year tuition fees. The actual cost would be only around £20 billion if action was taken immediately, rising to £60 billion if the policy was pursued after an election in 2022, it said.

However, a paper on the analysis adds that writing off loans would still weaken public finances, and would also largely benefit high-earning graduates, with low earners standing to gain very little.

The analysis follows a debate on the cost of cancelling graduate debt after Labour pledged to scrap tuition fees and its leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested his party would also like to be able to “deal with” the debt burden of those with “the historical misfortune of being at university during the £9,000 period”

Shortly after Labour’s manifesto promise the IFS stated that scrapping fees for new students would increase public borrowing by £11 billion a year.

The new analysis says writing off post-2012 fee loans would bring about a one-off increase in the government’s deficit of £34 billion, but beyond that it would be increased only by the loss of interest that would otherwise have been accrued on the outstanding debt.

“Depending on how the write-off is scored it is possible that the deficit would actually be reduced in future years as less debt will be written off in those years. But of course this would all be dwarfed by the £11 billion a year cost if loans were replaced by “free” tuition going forward,” the paper adds.

The IFS also adds that cancelling graduate debt could leave those who did not borrow the full amount available and the 7 per cent of students starting in 2014-15 who chose to pay fees upfront feeling cheated.

Source: IFS
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