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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 01:23 GMT
Students: in debt, working, happy
university students' bar
Many students work behind a bar rather than lean on one
Profile: happy, confident, clean-living, well-organised and financially competent.

That will be a student then.

The latest in a series of annual surveys of students' experiences in the UK suggests many work to cover costs and see university as a worthwhile route to improved employability.

The survey involved interviews with 1,007 full-time undergraduates and postgraduates, at 20 old and new universities, last autumn.

It was the fifth of its kind carried out by Mori for the student accommodation group Unite.

The survey suggested students do still like a drink, with about a third apparently buying more alcohol than the recommended safe levels.

But 71% said they cared very much about mental and physical health and fitness.

More than four in 10 were more likely to be behind a bar than drinking in one, working on average for 14.5 hours a week and earning about 86.

A total of 79% were generally keeping up with bills and credit commitments, with only 2% having real financial problems.

Work focus

Seven out of 10 had decided to go to university to gain a qualification, compared with 53% four years earlier.

This sounds utilitarian, but 44% said they had chosen university to learn more about subjects in which they were interested, compared with 21% four years ago.

Improving job prospects was a motivator for a majority.

This generation of students is perhaps the first to accept and feel at ease with the fact that they will need to borrow to study and possibly wor
Nicholas Porter
Almost nine out of 10 were happy with student life and an even higher proportion agreed university was a worthwhile experience.

The Higher Education Minister, Kim Howells, said: "It is these findings that have contributed to record rises in student numbers."

The government did not underestimate student hardship, he said, which was why it was getting rid of up-front fees in 2006 and proposing to offer the poorest students a minimum of 3,000 a year in grants and bursaries.

But the National Union of Students discerned "a generation of tired and harassed students", with two-thirds of those who were working doing so to pay for basic essentials and half of all respondents citing debt as the worst aspect of student life.

The average amount students owed was 5,285 - up 525 since last year's survey and 1,959 since 2000, the survey suggested.

Students expected to owe 9,744 by the time they graduated.

Poorer backgrounds

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis said students' debts would escalate with the introduction of top-up fees and the quality of their education was bound to suffer as they neglected their studies to earn money.

But Mori said the work and debt concerns did not seem to be as big as four years ago.

Unite's chief executive, Nicholas Porter, said: "This generation of students is perhaps the first to accept and feel at ease with the fact that they will need to borrow to study and possibly work during term-time to fund basic essentials."

The survey tends to confirm and update last week's report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, that students from poorer backgrounds were the least likely to go to university.

Over the four years since the Unite reports began, there has been no statistically significant increase in the proportion of students from working class backgrounds attending university. One fifth were from lower income families.

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