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EDITIONS
Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 02:08 GMT
Students say higher debts are worth it
university students
Students have mixed views on a graduate tax
The ongoing level of student debt has gone up by a quarter in a year, a survey suggests.

At the start of the 2001/02 academic year, university students across the UK said they owed 4,203 on average, 877 more than the year before - a rise of 26%.

Even so, a quarter of all students said they spent 21 to 50 a week on alcohol in term time - although a fifth spent nothing - and 86% owned mobile phones.

And there are very divided views on whether bringing back grants, to be paid for through a graduate tax, would be a good idea.

These are some of the findings of the second annual Student Living Survey commissioned by accommodation services company Unite, for which Mori interviewed 1,068 full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students in October and November.

Well worth it

They said the best things about student life were the chance to improve their career prospects - which is what the government stresses in promoting higher education to young people.

students in canteen
Meeting new friends is considered important
Meeting new friends was a close second, and students enjoyed having the freedom to do what they wanted.

The vast majority thought university was worthwhile.

The worst aspects involved finance, debt, and balancing academic and work commitments.

One in four students said they were struggling with some bills and credit commitments.

Working

The fact that the level of debt had increased markedly is not altogether surprising, as this is the first year in which the abolition of maintenance grants and introduction of tuition fees has worked its way through the system, with most students on three-year degree courses.

A substantial part of student debt is accounted for by government loans, which have replaced grants. Three fifths of students have them, owing on average 5,188.

One in 10 had credit card balances.

More than four in 10 were working up to 29 hours a week to help make ends meet.

Overall this year, almost three-quarters of students had done some form of work while at university, compared with little more than a half last year - 44% of former state school pupils and 34% of those educated privately.

Alternatives

White students tended to work in bars, shops and restaurants. Those from the ethnic minorities went for office work, particularly in administration, student services and libraries.

Students' attitudes to reforming the funding system are interesting in view of the government's review of the system - prompted by the criticism ministers encountered during the election campaign.

Almost half - 46% - said they preferred the current system of loans to a possible new system of maintenance grants and a graduate tax, which only a third backed.

But the lecturers' union Natfhe said the government's aim of attracting poorer students into university would hit a brick wall unless it scrapped tuition fees and reintroduced grants.

"The prospect of huge debts, and the combined burden of work and study will put off exactly the type of students the government wants to attract into higher education," it said.

Staying at home

The Association of University Teachers said it wholeheartedly supported the re-introduction of a targeted maintenance grant - but the government must also increase teaching resources.

students in bar
Socialising: Remains a priority
"Lecturers find it increasingly difficult to offer quality time and individual support to students," it said.

"Over-crowding and under-funding have a direct impact on the potential of students to succeed in their studies."

The survey suggested it was usual for students to get some form of financial help from their families, and a fifth actually lived at home with parents or other relatives.

These tended to be younger, from a lower social class and studying for a vocational qualification at one of the "new" universities - the former polytechnics.

Laptops and booze

The Student Living report says it is generally acknowledged by students and universities alike that many students are working to "finance a lifestyle", rather than just getting by.

The vast majority own a mobile phone and two thirds have their own computers. Ownership of both had gone up "significantly" in 12 months.

The survey confirms a student image of heavy drinking and socialising.

A quarter said they spent 21-50 a week on alcohol - the average being 25.

But a fifth spent nothing on alcohol in a typical week.

"Undergraduates who are aiming for a first class degree spend significantly less on alcohol than those who predict they will get a third class degree," said the report.

Unite's chief executive, Nicholas Porter, said: "These figures highlight the need for universities, colleges and their private sector partners to do more to address the problem of student stress."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emma Simpson
"Nearly half of all students now have a part-time job during term-time"
Higher education minister Margaret Hodge
"Students recognise it's a worthwhile investment"
Sandra Burslen of Universities UK
"We are worried the perception of debt will deter students"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | Health
04 Oct 01 | Education
03 Oct 01 | Education
04 Oct 01 | Education
10 Sep 01 | Education
22 Oct 01 | Education
18 Feb 03 | Education
20 Nov 00 | Scotland
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