Bringing finance inside the state: how income-contingent loans blur the boundaries between debt and tax

Gareth Bryant*, Ben Spies-Butcher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Income-contingent loans are increasingly used by governments around the world to finance the costs of higher education. We use the case of income-contingent loans to explore how states are bringing the architecture of financial markets inside the state, disrupting conventional understandings of marketisation that are linked to concepts of commodification. We argue that income-contingent loans are hybrid policy instruments that combine elements of a state-instituted tax and a market-negotiated debt. We understand this hybrid construction in terms of the actors and mechanisms characteristic of what Polanyi identified in patterns of ‘redistribution’ and ‘exchange’. We then follow the contested mutations of income-contingent loans in Australia, England and the United States along three axes of hybridity that produce a variegated landscape of higher education finance: determining debt, charging interest and enforcing repayment. Our analysis reveals how, as processes of marketisation internalise financial ways of calculating and organising, states are blurring the boundaries between debts and taxes, redirecting political contestation over commodification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-129
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning A: Economy and Space
Issue number1
Early online date16 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • financialisation
  • geographies of markets
  • income-contingent loans
  • Polanyi
  • policy mobilities


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