Average student debt now £4,500 a year

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The Independent Online

Student debt levels have rocketed by almost twice the level of inflation during the past year – with those starting university this autumn expected to owe more than £20,000 by the time they graduate.

A survey published today of more than 2,000 students at 136 campuses reveals a 9.6 per cent rise in debt levels – with the average student clocking up £4,500 a year in arrears. First-year students are totting up the highest annual debt levels of £5,563 a year, and will have to pay off £17,500 by the time they graduate. The average debt across all years is £14,161.

With food costs and rent rising this autumn, debts could increase by nearly £4,000 for those starting university in September.

The survey, published by Push.co.uk – the organisation that provides a comprehensive guide for new university students – is one of two focusing on the financial plight of students. The second, published by the National Union of Students, paints a grim picture of how students underestimate the costs they will face upon arrival. It shows they tend to underestimate the costs of groceries and household bills by as much as £450 a year.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Students are working more hours than ever to try to meet the rising costs of living at a time when their debts are hitting record levels.

"Struggling to pay the bills, racking up record debt levels and trying to keep on top of your studies are incredibly stressful. It is students from poorer backgrounds that find themselves hit the hardest as they are less likely to be able to rely on financial support from their parents."

A breakdown of the figures reveals that the average debt level in 11 universities has already broken the £20,000 mark. Debts were likely to be higher in England at £14,452 on graduation compared with just £9,389 in Northern Ireland.

Johnny Rich, editor of Push.co.uk, said: "It's easy to become immune to stories about student debt but... Some students are facing real financial hardship."