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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 12:55 GMT
Student debt: Will it put you off going to university?
The government will miss its target of getting 50% of under-30s into university by 2010 without more help for lower income students according to a new report.

The National Audit Office says that many youngsters from poorer families are deciding not to go into higher education because of money worries.

While more students than ever are going to university, the proportion of those from lower social groups - about 28% - has not changed since 1994, the NAO report found.

Since the introduction of tuition fees and the replacement of maintenance grants with loans, graduates are now likely to leave university with debts of between 10,000 and 16,000.

What do you think? Should the government be doing more to help poorer students? Does the prospect of student debt put you off going to university?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

So our education system becomes Victorian again - shame the trains aren't too.

Paul, UK
I had to drop out of university ten years ago because I couldn't afford it. The grant didn't even cover my rent and my course took up 40 hours a week. If you have well-off parents who can afford to subsidise you then you're going to be OK. Anyone else should think long and hard about whether it is worth it. With so many people going to university now, the traditional degree is going to become more and more a worthless piece of papers as far as employers are concerned. Only a small percentage from a select group of universities are will have anything to gain. So our education system becomes Victorian again - shame the trains aren't too.
Paul, UK

I think it is appalling that the Government expects people to pay for education. Education is a right, not an elitist body which only allows the wealthy to learn. How are the pupils from very low earning families ever supposed to move out of near poverty if they have to pay for the right to learn? The Government need to seriously think about their fee policy. Euan Blair might be able to pay for university fees, but what about others?
Lucy, England

Why are people so unwilling to invest 10,000 in their own futures, but are quite happy to spend the same amount on a car, which will lose half it's value the second they drive it out of the showroom?
Duncan Hill, England

Well I'm glad I finished when I did in 1996 and that was hard enough! I'm not sure what the incentive is to go to university these days when as a software engineer with a postgraduate degree I read about a train driver in the North East earning 10k a year more than me! I think that some people are a bit misguided about the difference in earnings between a graduate and a non graduate.
Kirsty, UK

Education should be available to those who have the ability not the cash

Tom, UK
I think the debts students have to suffer these days are a disgrace. A supply of skilled doctors, engineers, teachers and other professionals benefits the whole country and the government should pay. Perhaps we should look into cutting off "noddy" courses so that we can fund the useful courses properly. Education should be available to those who have the ability not the cash.
Tom, UK

I totally agree with Will Faulkners comments, I did my degree part time whilst working and it never did me any harm to completely self finance it, I think the trouble is people think they have a right to be able to just drift though A levels then Uni and get a good job at the end of it, it just doesn't work like that and I don't see why I should pay tax to finance what for most, is a 4 year long party!
Andi Bowbrick, UK

Will Faulkner says "Why should the government spoon-feed them through university, only for them to leave and end up earning double the amount that a non-graduate earns?". The reason is that, by earning twice that of a non-graduate, they are paying at least twice as much in taxes; add this up over the course of a lifetime and these payments should be more than enough to cover the cost of goverment giving students a helping hand through university...
Steve, UK

To Will Faulkner, UK: big wage packets? double the amount of a non-graduate? Try being a librarian! With a first degree, and a postgraduate diploma, only now, some twenty years later, am I earning just over 18,000 a year! I was lucky to go to university at a time when grants were paid to students. But please don't assume all graduates end up with massive salaries as a result. I think students have a hard time these days, and it is only the fortunate few who end up with large salaries at the end of it. Most are struggling.
Jayne, UK

Why are students going to university? To earn more money than the rest of us in the end. Why should the government spoon-feed them through university, only for them to leave and end up earning double the amount that a non-graduate earns? If you want a degree, you need to pay the money back in the end. Let them get into debt and make them pay it all back with their big wage packets when they leave.
Will Faulkner, UK

Over here in the United States we have the same problems. College is very expensive and puts a lot of people in serious debt. However our government gives many grants to people who can't afford an education. There are many poor students who struggle to make ends meet while getting an education, myself included. However our military is a good option as it pays for 75 percent of our college tuition and after our four year duty is complete we get a $30,000 grant to help pay for school - it's called the GI Bill. I don't know if the British military offers such great benefits but perhaps they should. It would help them with retention as well as helping the starving student by having their college paid for. Also I find you have more money to spend on school when you spend less on beer.
Dain, Washington DC, USA

Around twenty years ago, when I was at college, student grants were an automatic right, though you had to have parents, carers or guardians declare their earnings for means testing and thus how much they contributed. The fact that loans have replaced grants is a disgraceful move that ignores basic rights and short changes the country). How many unknown Hawkings, Einsteins, or Newtons have we lost just because they are scared of accumulating debts like these?
Steve Brereton, UK

My husband completed a degree in 1998. We were left with a huge amount of debt which has left me unable to pursue my studies to university level. The only way that the government are going to hit their target is by bringing back the grant system, and getting rid of the ridiculous loans!
Jenny, UK

I graduated last summer with debts of nearly 10 000. I earn only 13 000 so by the time I have paid for my living expenses and loans I have very little left. It's easy to say that graduates are highly paid so can afford to pay off their debts. When I started my degree, I didn't except to earn as little as this as a graduate. I could earn similar money in an unskilled non-graduate job so I can quite understand why the thought of getting into debt puts many people off.
Jane, UK

The law faculty at Oxford have recently reviewed their course. They expect students to spend 45 hours a week studying. It is also forbidden by several colleges to have jobs in term time. To expect students to work to pay for their studies would be unreasonable if they were to keep up with their course. There is also the fact that working for 15 hours a week wouldn't even cover the cost of my rent, and that's in college accommodation. Those that assume all students are able to work in term time are just mistaken.
Laura, UK

Anyone who says that students do have an easy life hasn't got a clue

Vishal Vashisht, UK
Anyone who says that students do have an easy life hasn't got a clue what they are talking about. I graduated in 1999. I had to repeat my degree and had to pay it all myself with help from my family, so as well as having to work instead of going to lectures, just to stay at university, I will be paying off my debts well into my 30's.
On top of this I am paying a higher rate of tax. It is no wonder that people don't want to go to university. Then on top of that people complain that there is a lack of teachers, doctors, IT people, engineers etc. You can't have your cake and eat it. In 20 years time this country is going to have no good graduates leaving university because it will be too expensive and then how can the country compete on a world stage
Vishal Vashisht, UK

I would not have gone to University if it would have left me with a 10,000 to 16,000 debt. I work in software, and it took me three years to gain the same salary level as a friend who went into supermarket management with A-levels. He has recently overtaken my salary again, since he has been given regional responsibilities. He worked just as hard for this as he would have done at University, but he was paid at the time rather than having to pay fees.
Chris, England

Having graduated from university last year I am now in so much debt - student loans, overdraft and credit cards all to pay off. I just don't really know if it was worth going to uni in the first place. Its going to take 2 years to pay back the loans, so I cant even make any plans financially. I received a grant, however it was 200 per team which paid for a months rent!
D Patel, UK

My cousin tried his best to support himself while earning a degree, but at the end of the day he couldn't focus on his work long enough to pass because he was working eight hours a day 5 days a week and then trying to study and go to university! I think we must now understand that university is now the preserve of the rich and degrees are going to be much more difficult to get.
John Davies, UK

Tony and co, if you want 50% of under 30s with or doing a degree by 2010, there is one solution. Scrap fees and bring back the grants! This will halve the debts of most students.
Helen, UK

Will Faulkener seems to have missed the point with his "learned" comments. Everyone is entitled to aspire, that should not be judged on the basis of wealth or status, but on capability. I myself am a 4th year Law student, who has struggled, continuously for 5 years on 400 a year from the government whilst holding down a 30 hour a week job. I only hope that I will walk into one of these jobs which pays "double the salary of a non-graduates" however the fact remains that trainee solicitors can expect to earn about 7-10,000 after struggling for so long hardly seems justifiable.
Z. Dingwall, UK

This nation needs doctors, scientists, technicians, computer programmers

Simon, UK/Finland
Will Faulkner, UK: I'm sure a nation of manual labourers and secretaries is going to see the UK remain among the forefront of the global economy. This nation needs doctors, scientists, technicians, computer programmers, and so on. A degree doesn't only teach these skills, but how to put them to best use in today's world. That is a right that anyone with the ability has - regardless of whether they can afford it or not. It sounds to me like you are nothing more than jealous.
Simon, UK/Finland

This country needs an educated workforce as never before. Restricting higher education to those who can afford fees and to incur massive debt is short-sighted and limiting and disastrous for the country in the long run. My comprehensive school-educated son worked hard for his Oxford place and accepts that he'll be living in poverty for the next few years, and still leave owing a fortune. He's resigned to this, but most of his friends wouldn't put themselves and their families through it. So they won't be getting degrees and that most precious asset, human talent, is thrown away, and higher education restricted to the rich. It's not only unfair, it's outrageously wasteful and ultimately harmful to the economy.
Carla Randle-Conde, UK

Is 50% really a realistic or desirable target for university? In many fields such as IT and engineering courses are so far behind industrial practice as to be a joke and an apprentice would turn out more practically skilled workers. Of course in the modern status obsessed workplace an apprentice doesn't compare to the perceived value of a degree, but that value will by definition be diminished if 50% of the population have them.

For that matter what proportion of the UK NEED degrees, I'm a university drop out and I'm now a successful accountant due to experience and professional (part time) study set and graded by an institute of accounting professionals and geared to the workplace. But this is not the course that would have been plotted for me had I finished my (electronics) degree. I suspect that many people will find them selves with outdated knowledge tailored specifically for a perceived role that they may not suit but which they have been channelled toward since their GCSEs.

I believe in more vocational training, few, more highly selected students entering direct from school (those with a clear idea of what they want from life at 18, very few) but based on ability not wealth, and more slightly older student who have had the opportunity to experience the workplace, find their role and enter with experience to build on and learning goals beyond gaining a qualification for it's own sake.
Peter UK,

See also:

27 Nov 00 | Business
Higher education, larger debt
04 May 01 | Mike Baker
Priced out of university?

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