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12 May 2022

Reform of student debt system in focus for PhD thesis

An examination of the coalition government’s reforms to student debt in England were the basis for a King’s alumna’s doctoral research.

King's alumna Tamar Nir successfully passed her PhD thesis. Picture: TAMAR NIR

Tamar Nir set out to study the implications of the 2010 policy shift which saw the tripling of student tuition fees in England and their replacement with a system of income-contingent loans which shifted the burden of non-repayment onto the public.

Having submitted her thesis earlier this year, Tamar appeared before a panel at a ‘viva voce', a rigorous examination from senior academics, and received the news earlier this month that she had been successful.

Tamar, a member of the Department of European and International Studies, said she was “absolutely elated” to have passed and paid tribute to her supervisors.

She said: “I would like to thank my primary supervisor Johnna Montgomerie, for her personal and intellectual support. This project would not have been possible without her. And, of course, my secondary supervisor Christopher Holmes, who has provided my thesis with much needed structure.

“Finally, I’d like to thank my two examiners who allowed me to reflect on my work, by providing me with insightful comments and thoughtful questions which made for a really enjoyable discussion.”

Tamar chose the tuition fee reforms for her doctoral thesis as it built on an area of study she first examined during her MA but also because of a gap in research in the area.

She said: “I chose studying the income-contingent loans because there is limited work which understands the implications of funding higher education by use of debt in a way that considers the political economic circumstances for their implementation.

“This is especially crucial because my thesis demonstrates the intentionality with which private debt is used to fund public goods, revealing the forms of control the government exercises over the sector.”

In terms of conclusions, the research suggested the 2010 reforms failed to tackle inequality in higher education and led instead to greater government intervention.

Tamar said: “In simple terms, my thesis arrived at two central and interconnected conclusions. The first, there are specific students who are deemed problematic within this framework - namely lower- and middle-income graduates who are less likely to pay off their debt. And second, that non repayment results in increased forms of government control over the sector, as evidenced in the implementation of regulatory bodies to change the conduct of both universities and students.”

With her doctoral research now complete, Tamar hopes to apply for a research role and, eventually, a postdoctoral position in academia but, for now, a long-awaited back-packing trip to the Himalayas lies in store.