Level of student debt has trebled in four years

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The Independent Online

Student debt has trebled in the last four years and changes in funding are putting off prospective students, according to a government-commissioned study published yesterday.

Student debt has trebled in the last four years and changes in funding are putting off prospective students, according to a government-commissioned study published yesterday.

While ministers said the survey showed that most students had enough money, Conservatives and student leaders said the findings were an indictment of the Government's decision to introduce tuition fees and replace grants with loans.

Researchers from South Bank university who questioned more than 2000 students found that six out of 10 had friends who had been put off going to university by the funding changes.

The figure for ethnic minority and working class students was even higher. Overall, 87 per cent said they had financial problems and one in 10 had considered dropping out because of them.

The survey covers the years 1998-9 when tuition fees were introduced but before maintenance grants had been abolished. Students expected to leave university with debts of about £2,500, up from just over £800 in 1995-6. Lone parents were in the greatest difficulties. Their average debt was £4,747.

Students owe more money to more creditors than they did in the mid-1990s, says the report. Though much of the increase can be accounted for by changes in funding, more students have bank overdrafts and owe money on their credit cards.

The report argues that the Government's funding changes appear to be "fostering a culture unworried by debt. But those potential students who are debt-averse or unwilling to embrace such a culture and have insufficient parental support or private means may see debt as a barrier to their access to full-time higher education".

Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The survey is a damning indictment of the Government's student funding system. The survey was carried out before the abolition of maintenance grants so the picture today is likely to be much worse."

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