By Dr Steve Wyn Williams, FACE Executive Member 

In 2016 a research report funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) was published that explored inequalities in the decision-making by final year undergraduates about their graduate futures in the wake of higher university fees and higher levels of student debt. The project was led by Dr Katy Vigurs (Staffordshire University) and two co-researchers from the University of Manchester (Dr Steven Jones and Dr Diane Harris). The report was based on a comparison of the views of 37 pairs of students from two universities in central England (one Russell Group HEI and one Post-1992 HEI). One half of each pair graduated in 2014 (lower fees, lower debt) and the other half graduated in 2015 (the first generation of students to have paid £9000 per year). Each pair was from a similar socio-economic background and had studied the same discipline at the same university.

As well as publishing a traditional written research report, the team applied for additional funding to develop a wider dissemination strategy. This involved employing four final year undergraduates studying the BA Hons Cartoon and Comic Arts (Staffordshire University) to visually translate the written report into graphic representations for a wider audience. This resulted in the production of a 32 page research-informed comic, which has been shared widely online through a variety of social media platforms and has gained much attention from academics and education practitioners alike. The research-informed comic has since been written about in the Times Higher Education Supplement and in the local newspaper, The Sentinel.
It is widely recognised that students do not engage fully with financial information – especially about the longer-term issues prior to entry to higher education. It is therefore advised that effort is made to communicate with undergraduates and recent graduates about financial repayments, for example by better supporting them to make use of interactive website or similar that allow students to input financial variables and view implications. These tools exist but we found no evidence that graduates are aware of these resources or how to utilise them as part of their graduate decision-making.
Individual higher education providers should also consider equipping their students with information, advice and guidance about post-graduation finance to help students/graduates make more informed decisions about their progression, including information about loan repayment and postgraduate funding. This is likely to contribute to better graduate outcomes for students and higher education providers.

— Dr Steve Wyn Williams, Dean of Academic Policy and Development, Staffordshire University

The full SRHE research report can be accessed here:

The research-informed comic can be accessed here

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