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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July 2004, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
UK student debt rises over 14bn
Many graduates repaid their loans earlier than they had to
Total outstanding student debt in the UK rose 18.7% to just over 14.6bn last year.

New official lending to students in the 2003-04 academic year was 4% higher than the year before, at 2.7bn.

People repaid 622.2m - more than a quarter of which (27%) was paid back earlier than it needed to be.

Under the new scheme by which the government repays the loans of those who trained as teachers, 5.7m was handed back.

The new statistic for total debt, from the Student Loans Company, was up from 12.3bn the previous year.

Actual total student-related debt, including unofficial borrowing by way of bank loans and credit cards, will be higher.

A recent study estimated that the average student in England and Wales now leaves higher education owing 12,069.

'Disastrously high'

But the official total was described as "staggering" by the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis.

"Access to higher education should be about ability to learn, not ability to pay," he said.

"Tuition fees have already resulted in a total student debt of over 14bn and Labour's introduction of top-up fees will further increase the disastrously high debt.

"The government must realise that the fear of debt is now very real for school leavers. Top-up fees will mean that many are simply priced out of Labour's higher education market altogether."

Under the Higher Education Act, grants are being reintroduced for poorer students.

Universities will be able to vary the tuition fees they charge, from 2006, up to 3,000 a year.

It is expected that most of this will also be covered by loans, which will fall due once graduates are earning at least 15,000 a year.

Conservative higher education spokesman, Chris Grayling, said: "These figures are profoundly worrying particularly as there are mounting concerns about the ability of graduates to find proper graduate-level jobs after university.

"We can't go on piling more and more debt on the shoulders of our young people - and the government's ill-thought-out decision to introduce top-up fees will make matters much worse for future students."

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