University a 'false promise' for too many youngsters
Up to a quarter of students in England are doing degrees that will not give them sufficient earnings to justify the cost of their loans, a think tank says.
The centre-right group urges ministers to cut places on those courses offering little financial return and increase those in post-18 technical education.
Its report also says tax breaks of up to 50p in every pound owed should be offered to graduates repaying loans.
The government is carrying out a review of post-18 education and funding.
The Onward report acknowledges that "education has a value in its own right" and that "earning a living is not the only reason people study" but says too many young people "are being sold a false promise".
"Too many are facing hefty repayments for degrees that won't help them financially and too few are being offered quality technical and apprenticeship options instead," it says.
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The study says, in 2015-16:
- between 18% and 25% of undergraduates were studying for degrees that fail to deliver a lifetime-earnings premium that justifies the average student debt, from tuition fees and maintenance loans, of £50,000
- 40% of undergraduates were enrolled in courses that led to median earnings below the student-loan repayment threshold, of £25,000, after five years
- 10% were enrolled in courses with median earnings below £25,000 10 years after graduation - representing 134,000 students every year who won't be paying back anything 10 years after graduating yet who will have accumulated significant interest
- 20% would be no better off five years after graduating than if they had chosen to take a non-university route, such as an apprenticeship
The Onward report urges the government to:
- halve repayments on students loans, by introducing a tax cut for graduates worth 50p in every pound owed
- cut the number of places on courses that offer limited value for money to students 10 years after graduation
- increase the number in post-18 technical education, currently the "ugly duckling" of British education
Co-author of the report and Tory MP Neil O'Brien said: "Too many students are effectively being mis-sold a university education."
There was a "substantial minority who don't earn much but get left with big debts", he said.
"We should steer people away from courses that don't lead to good outcomes."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "Students rightly expect value for money from their degree, which is why the government is conducting a major review of post-18 education and funding - to ensure we have a system that is joined up, accessible to all and provides value for money for both students and taxpayers."