Rethinking Student Loans for Access to HE Students: A Path to Higher Education

21 May 2024

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The decision to return to education is a bold step, full of promise and potential. Access to Higher Education (Access to HE) Diplomas play a pivotal role in this journey, especially for adult learners who aspire to enter university but may lack traditional qualifications. These courses are a beacon of hope, creating the path to academic and career advancements. However, a significant barrier stands in the way for many: the concern over student loans for their intended higher education (HE) courses.

Martin Lewis, a trusted financial expert from Money Saving Expert, offers a fresh perspective that could change everything. He suggests viewing student loans not as burdensome debt but rather as a tax on future earnings. This simple reframing offers a glimmer of hope but requires deeper understanding and discussion.

Understanding Student Loans in the UK

In essence, the U.K.’s student loan system is designed to be a supportive structure. Payments are not required until graduates earn above a certain threshold, and then, payments are proportionate to income. Essentially, this system asks for contributions when, and only if, the HE qualification facilitates a route to higher earning potential.

Challenges for Access to HE Learners

Many adult learners returning to education are understandably apprehensive about the financial implications. Their concerns often centre around accruing debt later in life and the viability of managing repayments alongside other financial responsibilities. This is why it is so important to not just provide information, but to offer guidance and reassurance.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities for Access to HE Diploma Centres

  • Information Sessions and Webinars

Knowledge is power! Holding sessions that fully explain the student finance system and are tailored to Access to HE and potential HE students can bring to life the true meaning behind the numbers. These sessions should aim to debunk myths and offer tangible advice on how to manage student finance, with references to resources like Martin Lewis’s compelling explanations, Student Loans Decoded. This website also provides lesson plans and other resources which tutors can use to help deliver interactive and compelling information, advice and guidance sessions.

  • Success Stories

You will ignore using experiences of previous students at your peril!  There is incredible power in storytelling. Sharing testimonials from those who’ve walked this path, spotlighting their academic and career successes post-Access to HE, alongside their experiences with student finance, can inspire and encourage prospective students.

  • Comprehensive Financial Guidance

Access to personalised financial advice is crucial. Providing links to or partnering with financial advisory services can help prospective students craft a financial plan that considers their unique circumstances.   Use a loan repayment calculator with students to explore their own circumstances using something like the one on the Money Saving Expert website.

  • Collaborative Partnerships with Universities

Strengthening ties with universities to offer targeted advice, potential scholarships, and financial planning for Access to HE students can make the transition smoother and less daunting.

  • Advocacy for Supportive Policies

Working alongside educational bodies to advocate for policies that reduce financial barriers can lead to systemic changes, benefiting future learners.  Reach out to your local MP to begin lobbying for better support and influence policy decisions.

Practical Advice for Learners

Everyone’s circumstances are different. Even if you think your situation is the same as someone else’s, this is rarely true. This is all about making sure yo are fully informed to help you make the right decisions for you.


  • – Do your research: Use resources like the Money Saving Expert website to understand the financial implications truly

  • – Seek advice: Don’t hesitate to reach out for financial guidance or support services offered by your Access to HE provider or intended university
  • – Consider your options: Look into scholarships, grants, and other forms of non-repayable financial aid

  • – Plan ahead: Use budgeting tools and calculators to map out your financial situation post-graduation


The pathway to higher education, particularly for adult learners through Access to HE Diplomas, is a journey worth embarking upon. The prospect of taking a student loan can cast a shadow on this path, but with the right information, guidance, and perspective, the journey can become less daunting. By viewing student loans through the lens of investment in future potential rather than a financial burden, we can open up the pathways to opportunity and success for adult learners everywhere.

Together, by fostering understanding and providing support, we can transform apprehension into action, ensuring that financial concerns do not hinder the educational aspirations of adult learners. The journey to higher education is not just a personal achievement; it’s a step toward a brighter future for all involved.