This paper examines two of the stated objectives of the government’s student loans scheme, ‘to increase the resources available to students’ and ‘to increase economic awareness among students, and their self reliance’. Following Farrell and Tapper (1992) we also consider a third, less explicit objective, that of exerting an influence on the shape of higher education itself, through economic pressure on students to select courses that are earnings related and vocationally oriented. The results of a survey of a random sample of students conducted annually between 1992 and 1996 at the University of Brighton demonstrate a substantial increase in student debt over this period. Among students increasing support for the principles underlying the loan scheme was found, as were high levels of ‘economic awareness’ and ‘self-reliance’. There was no evidence of a demand for changes in the pattern of course provision and it is suggested that this is because of the way in which students have responded to their changed financial situation, in particular the high reliance of many on part-time employment in preference to student loans and a desire to maximise current rather than future earnings.