Family university challenge: Vivien Goldsmith on a long-term overview of the changing face of student finances

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THE A-Level results are out and university beckons for students, but parents may be looking at the prospect with sinking hearts.

Students have always had a financial struggle, but now that grants are being cut students get by on a moutain of debts - and parents are contributing more.

When a student goes to university the whole family goes through the financial side of the experience.

The student grant has been cut by 10 per cent for the coming academic year and will be cut by 10 per cent in the following two years. Student loans are increasing by 44 per cent in the coming year to fill the gap.

Overdrafts are available from banks - most are offering pounds 400 or more this year. But students still do not have enough to live on. More than 20 per cent of students consider giving up their studies because of mounting debts.

The average student ended the last academic year with pounds 1,237 of debt, a 3 per cent increase over the previous year. The largest part of this, pounds 699, was owed to the student loan scheme, followed by pounds 286 to a bank or building society and pounds 153 to parents or relatives.

The Independent plans to highlight the changing way that families are financing higher education by following three families through the experience of having a son or daughter at university.

Barclays Bank will provide pounds 1,000-worth of Premium Bonds for each of the three families - half for the parents and half for the student - as an incentive for families to take part.

That gives each family an even chance of winning two prizes during the three years - anything from pounds 50 to pounds 1m. Alternatively, the bonds can be turned into cash within eight working days.

Two or three times a year we will ask the student and the parents how they are managing on a tight budget and we will also ask the parents how they are coping with the added financial strain.

Students do not have to bank with Barclays or even have a bank account arranged yet. We will try to select a cross-section of students to give an overview of student (and parent) life in the 1990s.

The Personal Finance Editor's decision will be final.

(Photograph omitted)

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