Students may still be paying off university debts until their 50s

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UNIVERSITY students could find themselves paying off their student debts until their 50s – if they even pay it off at all, a new study has found.

Research commissioned by the Sutton Trust and carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that almost three quarters of graduates from England will have at least some of their loan written off, due to the increased fees.

The study assessed the impact of the new student loan system for fees and maintenance, introduced in England from September 2012 to coincide with higher tuition costs of up to £9,000 a year.

Entitled Payback Time?, the report found that a typical student would now leave university with “much higher debts than before”, averaging more than £44,000.

Harleigh Watson, a first year childhood studies student at Sunderland University, said she doubts she will ever be free of her debt.

The 18-year-old said: “The thought of being in debt put me off coming to university for a while. Roughly, I’ll be in debt of around £35,000-£40,000 when I leave. I don’t know if I’ll ever pay off my student loan.”

The threshold for paying back student loans is now £21,000. Under the former system, the current threshold for repayment is £16,910 (both at a rate of nine per cent on all income above this).

Second year law student from Sunderland University, Anna Ford, 20, said: “I’m only paying a tuition fee loan, so I’m paying £7,800 a year at Sunderland University, which is £23,000 in total. I have full intentions to pay it back. Since I’m studying law, I hope to become a solicitor which will have an average to good salary.”

The student debts are written off after 30 years, compared with 25 years, under the old system.

Christopher Smith, 22 a Sunderland University magazine journalism graduate and creator and former editor of Spark Magazine, added: “I paid the old rate fees and pay off £34 a month now.

“I would have paid the higher fees if I had to.

“My brother started uni this year and his repayments won’t be massively more than mine.”

Case Study

Linzi is a third year Sunderland University student, in news journalism.

“Back in 2011, when I was applying for university, one of the factors putting me off was the costs and overall looming debt – and this was before the almost triple, fee increase.

“Coming from a family where no one before me had moved away to university and had experiences of the debt, it was a big decision to make, whether or not it would be all worth it in the end.

“If I had to pay the fees of up to £9,000, which were reinstated the year later, then I wouldn’t have gone to university, so for me, I’ve been very lucky.

“Luckily being in Sunderland, living costs for students are slightly less. My weekly rent is £60, whereas my friend, who is studying in London pays £165 per week.

“When I leave university in less than two months’ time, I will be in debt totalling around £25,000, which compared to others is astonishingly classed as not a lot.

“I’ve balanced a part-time job as well as my studies throughout my three years to make sure I could afford to live comfortably and enjoy my time.

“I don’t know if I’ll eventually manage to pay mine all off – but I’ve definitely got more chance of paying it off than a lot of students who are now paying the higher fees.