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Education News

A degree will leave you with debts of £23,500

...but there's a 1 in 5 chance that you'll also meet the love of your life

First the bad news: school leavers heading for university are likely to end up deeper in debt than any previous generation.

Undergraduates starting this autumn are predicted to have accumulated debts of, on average, £23,500 by the time they finish their courses. While doing so, however, there is a strong chance they will end up luckier in love than if they had stayed at home or tried to find a job.

Separate surveys into the lives that today's students can expect paint a contrasting picture of what awaits this week's 250,000 A-level candidates searching for a higher education place.

Research carried out by Push.co.uk, a publisher of student guides that surveyed students who started university last autumn, shows they clocked up £6,626 on average in debt during the year.

The figure is a 10.6 per cent rise on the previous year – with one reason being the lack of availability of part-time and temporary jobs. At present, the average student gets by through earning £41 a week – but that could dwindle as a result of the recession.

Taking into account inflation over the next two years, the guide estimates they will be £21,198 in debt by the end of the course. Those starting this autumn can add at least £2,000 worth of debt on top of that.

It may not be plain sailing once they leave university either, especially if they are male. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, published yesterday, show that one in 10 male graduates with a first degree will be unemployed six months after he leaves university. The picture for women is a little better, with 6.5 per cent out of work.

Not surprisingly, student leaders and lecturers have warned that the rise in debt should lead to the Government cancelling any plans to increase tuition fees – currently at a maximum of £3,150 a year. A review of the top-up fees regime is being launched in the autumn.

All is not lost for this autumn's would-be undergraduates though, as the second survey highlights. It shows that one in five students will settle down with the love of their life as a result of a meeting at university.

Students looking for love should head to Bath, where a massive 64 per cent of ex-students have met their partner while studying. Love also blossoms at Worcester (48 per cent), Loughborough (33 per cent) and Bournemouth (32 per cent). Of those who give university a miss, one in 10 feels they missed out on finding love.

The survey, by Unite, the country's largest provider of student accommodation, also reveals those who go to university can boast more close friends – 15 on average compared to just 10 by those who choose not to go.

"A degree alone doesn't always guarantee you a job," said Nathan Goddard, of Unite. "It's also the people you meet and the friends you make that could help you get ahead. Our research reveals people who go to university make strong social networks which help set them up for life, whether it be work, lasting friendships or even marriage."

Love in the lecture halls: Celebrity couples

*Tony Benn went up to Oxford at the end of the Second World War, where he met the US-born Caroline Middleton DeCamp over tea at Worcester College in 1949. Nine days later he proposed to her on a park bench in the city. Many years later, he bought the bench from Oxford City Council and placed it in the garden of their Holland Park home. The couple had four children, including Hilary, the current Environment Secretary. Caroline had a long career as an educationist, and co-founded the Campaign for Comprehensive Education. She died of cancer in 2000 aged 74.

*In his final year studying philosophy at UCL, Ricky Gervais didn't just hit the dizzy heights of 117 in the charts as one half of pop double act Seona Dancing, he also met fellow finalist Jane Fallon. In the few years that followed she would become a successful TV producer, including on series such as This Life, Teachers and EastEnders, while he loitered as the entertainments manager for the student union. He has been busier since.

*As an undergraduate, the shadow Business Secretary Kenneth Clarke was a big figure in what would come to be known as the "Cambridge mafia". Michael Howard, Norman Lamont and Leon Brittan were amongst his young Tory contemporaries, but so too was Gill, who he later married. She now works as a director of Oxfam.

*The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg says it was love at first sight when he met the last of his 30 conquests, Miriam Gonzalez. They were both mature students at the College of Europe in Bruges. They married in 2000 and have three children together.