English students face debts of £44,000

28 April 2016   By Justin Schamotta

ENGLISH students graduate with the highest debts in the English-speaking world, according to new research.

student budgeting
Credit: Motortion Films/Shutterstock.com

The Sutton Trust's Degrees of Debt report finds that students from England are now leaving higher education with an average debt of £44,000 - substantially higher than that incurred by American students studying four-year courses at prestigious Ivy League universities.

It's also more than double the average debt incurred by students from Wales and Northern Ireland, and more than four times that of students from Scotland.

An escalating expense

The rising costs reflect the 2012 imposition of £9,000 tuition fees and a change to repayment terms announced in last year's budget.

The authors of the report [pdf] say that this will be exacerbated when maintenance grants are abolished in September.

This will mean the poorest students could face debts in excess of £50,000, further skewing a professional landscape where they are already underrepresented.

Faced with such a severe debt, finding the cheapest route through university will increasingly become a necessity.

Unfortunately, the cost of studying in other parts of the UK makes little difference for students from England.

Those from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, however, are luckier.


Students who normally live in Scotland and choose to go to university there don't usually have to pay any fees.

Instead, they apply each year to the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), who pay any fees required on the behalf of eligible students.

Further financial support may also be available to help fund their living costs. This includes income-assessed bursaries (which don't have to be repaid) and repayable student loans from the SAAS.

These loans and bursaries are available to Scottish students wherever they study in the UK - with the maximum bursary increasing from £1,750 to £2,150.

By contrast, students from England and Northern Ireland who choose to study in Scotland must pay fees of up to £9,000 a year.

Students from Wales must also pay these fees, but the Welsh Assembly will contribute up to £5,161 a year.

Interestingly, students from EU countries do not have to pay any fees to study in Scotland - this is because it is illegal to discriminate against people from another EU state.


As in England and Scotland, it can cost up to £9,000 a year to attend a Welsh university or college.

However, "home" students - those from Wales - can apply for a tuition fee loan to cover the first £3,810; those with fees higher than this can apply for a non-repayable grant of up to £5,190 to help make up the difference.

Living costs, meanwhile, can be made more bearable by maintenance grants and loans offered by the Welsh Government.

With minor differences, all of the above are available for Welsh students regardless of where in the UK they study.

Northern Ireland

Fees for Northern Irish students at universities in the region are capped at £3,925 per year, though students from elsewhere in the UK will have to pay up to £9,000.

Home students can apply for a loan to cover the cost of tuition fees charged by Northern Irish institutions, but only up to £3,805.

If they choose instead to study in England, Wales or Scotland, they can apply for a loan of up to £9,000 to cover the higher fees - and for further loans and grants to cover maintenance costs, though these will depend on their household income.

Higher level apprenticeship

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation says that - for English students in particular - the cost of going to university has become so expensive that young people should "seriously consider" alternatives such as higher level apprenticeships.

These, as he says, enable people to "earn while they learn, incur less debt, and develop skills which are greatly valued in the workplace".

Indeed, according to research from his own organisation, apprentices achieving a level 5 qualification could earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than someone with an undergraduate degree from a non-Russell Group university.

While this sounds good in theory, how many of this type of degree-level apprenticeship actually exist?

Government figures suggest that more than 11,000 higher apprenticeships started between August 2015 and January 2016.

To put this into perspective, in August 2015 some 409,000 applicants were accepted to start university that year.

While the Government have promised to continue to increase the number of apprenticeship places, there may never be enough for everyone who wants one.

More to the point, some jobs simply aren't accessible via this route.

In the meantime, the majority of students will continue to graduate with levels of debt that may still be having an impact many years down the line.

For example, mortgages lenders may be more wary of those with significant student debt.

Postgraduate choices - such as whether to study further, or having children - can also be seriously affected.

Students seem undeterred for the moment - but whether this changes further down the line remains to be seen.

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