Britain's missing students: they'd love to go to university but they just can't face the debts

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University applications are running at 8 to 10 per cent below normal. Many aspiring undergraduates are worried about plans for pounds 1,000 tuition fees and an end to grants for board and lodging. Some are abandoning the idea of higher education altogether; others are opting to study in a town where the cost of living is lower; some are planning to defer university for a year, to earn money. Lucy Hodges talks to four students.

Katie Allen, 17, is taking A-levels next summer in psychology, German and English language at Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough, Cleveland. Her father is an electrician in a mine, her mother is a shop assistant. Katie wants to go to university, but now she isn't sure she'll be able to. She may have to stay in the area, attend Teesside, her local university, and live at home.

Tuition of pounds 1,000 is going to bring me into debt. I don't want that. I'd rather earn money than come out of university being in debt and having to pay that off when I finally get a job. I'd rather get a job, make some money, and gain a qualification once I have saved enough money.

Students are coming out in debt and with loans as it is. If we're going in with no student grants and having to pay for our tuition, we're going to come out more in debt, so we'll have to pay more in loan repayments when we eventually get our jobs. That's very off putting.

My aim is to join the police, so I'm hoping to do a degree in criminology. There are only a few universities that do the course. One is local - Teesside - but the others aren't. They're in the south, and accommodation down there is expensive. That puts me off as well.

I've also been looking at studying linguistics and English at Bangor, where housing is cheap. Rents are pounds 37 there. But because of tuition fees I'm probably going to have to opt for Teesside University or get a job. I don't think I'll be able to go to university anywhere else.

My parents want me to go to university because they never had the chance. But I don't want my parents to have to pay for me. I have a sister of 15 and a brother of 11. My sister wants to do medicine. That will be expensive.

Former actor Stephen Petcher, 43, is on an access course at Bradford and Ilkley Community College. He had been planning to progress to a degree at Bradford University, but he can't face being left with a debt when he graduates at the age of 48. He would rather concentrate on helping his 16-year-old daughter, who plans to go to university in two years' time.

I got three O-levels and didn't bother with exams much, because I wanted to be an actor. I was an actor for 22 years, including six years with Bill Bryden's company at the National Theatre. Eventually, though, I became disillusioned with acting and left it.

I started working for an upholstery company, but it ran into financial trouble and I was made redundant. So I came back home to Bradford and enrolled on this access course. Part of me always regretted not going to university and going to drama school. I thought, `This is the time to do it.'

Then the Labour government arrived. It's outrageous that they're introducing fees. You would believe it of a Tory government. I just find it unbelievable of Labour.

What really annoys me is that a lot of this new intake of Labour MPs have only just finished university themselves. There they are, telling me and everybody like me that we have to pay.

I couldn't afford to go to university now. At the moment I get income support and my rent paid. That amounts to about pounds 5,000 a year. I need that just to stand still. At the end of three years I would be a minimum of pounds 15,000 in debt, possibly pounds 18,000 going on pounds 20,000. I'd be nearly 48 years old. I just cannot start looking for work at that age owing that amount of money. It would not allow me at any point to start building a pension.

My daughter should come first. I feel I should support her. So instead, I'm doing a course in computer literacy. If I reach the right level, I should be able to get a job in that field in 12 months' time.

Amy Potter, 17, is taking three A-levels next summer - media studies, general studies and English - at Abingdon College in Oxfordshire. Her mother is a nursery teacher and her father is an electrician.

The idea of paying tuition fees makes me angry. I would definitely have applied to go to university next autumn if the Government hadn't introduced charges. Now I'm thinking of getting a job next year to help pay for it, and deferring university entrance. Or just giving up altogether and getting a job. Charging fees and doing away with the grant is putting a lot of students off higher education.

I know it's very important to go to university. I'd really like to get a job that I'm happy with and enjoy. I don't want to be working in a shop for the rest of my life. I know a lot of people who have been to university, and they say it's the best thing they've ever done. I feel that everyone has the right to education and everyone should have the chance to go to university.

My parents would help me financially, But I don't want to depend on my parents. It's my pride. I would rather pay for myself. And I don't want to take out loans. I've never been in debt before.

The only way I could fund a degree now would be by getting a job for a year and saving up money, and then working part time during my degree course. I want to earn money and pay as I go, instead of leaving university knowing that I've got to pay back money.

I have been thinking about doing media studies or English at university, maybe at Oxford Brookes or Reading University. I've worked out that it would be a lot cheaper to live at home. That's why I would apply locally to a university that I can drive to.

Unemployed Michael Foote, 29, is on an access course at Brighton College of Technology, having passed one A-level last summer. He had set his sights on a degree in politics and philosophy at Sussex University, but now all that is a pipe dream.

It's looking pretty dire. I've been forced between a rock and a hard place. I don't think I'll be able to afford to go to university as I'd hoped, because I can't take on the debt. I already have debts of pounds 3,000 to pounds 4,000.

My access course is free. I'm on a jobseeker's allowance, which gives me around pounds 45 a week. I would have to use any cash I got from a student loan to pay the rent on my flat in Hove - pounds 65 a week - and then I would have to get a job for anything extra.

My parents can't afford to pay for me to get a degree. They would help here and there, but they're not particularly wealthy. I would be financially crippled by the time I graduated. I'm terrified to go to banks and ask to borrow money.

My stepbrothers and sisters went to university and prospered, and I thought I ought to do something with my life. With six O-levels I was able to get clerical and labouring jobs, but I wanted more. I'm really interested in philosophy - it's the only thing I'm any good at.

But there's no point now trying to improve yourself. The doors are being shut in your face. It's all right if you have parents who can afford it, but there aren't many of them. I think I'll have to go back into clerical work, or go abroad.

I don't believe in the Labour party any more. I voted Labour at the last election. We've been betrayed. Before the election, David Blunkett said he was the product of a free education. And now he wants to charge me to continue mine.

Additional research by Anne Lundregan.

Charges for higher education


From next autumn students will be charged a maximum tuition fee of pounds 1,000 a year. If their gross income or that of their parents is less than around pounds 23,000 a year, they will pay nothing.

Grants are being phased out. They are being replaced by bigger government loans for living costs, estimated this academic year at pounds 4,245.

According to the Department for Education and Employment, students will be offered a loan of up to pounds 2,572 next year towards their living costs. The following year the loan will be increased.

That means students could find themselves graduating with a loan of well over pounds 7,500 after three years. But graduates will not begin to repay loans until their annual income is more than pounds 10,000.