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A life of debt... today's students face leaving college owing £44,000

BY CLAIRE MCNEILLY

Most students will still be paying back loans from their university days in their 40s and 50s – and many will never clear the debt.

That's according to shocking new research which estimates that today the average UK student will graduate with more than £44,000 in debt.

It also said a middle-earning university graduate will still owe about £39,000 at today's prices by the age of 40, and about £32,000 by 50.

In Northern Ireland – where tuition fees are capped at £3,500 compared to £9,000 in England – the economist John Simpson said that average graduate debt is likely amount to around £30,000.

That massive sum is of major concern to those who are about to enter third-level eduction, including the Belfast Telegraph's Young Editors.

It's also something that local businesses believe must be addressed by young people when they are making their future career choices.

Wilfred Mitchell, Northern Ireland policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said student debt was a serious issue that many young people will have to take into account when considering their educational path and career.

"FSB Northern Ireland would encourage all young people to recognise that there are alternatives to the traditional route of higher education, such as apprenticeships and self-employment," he said.

"Potential student debt should be considered as a significant factor when evaluating all options but by making different initial choices nobody should be precluded from continuing with further or higher education at a later point in their career."

The study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Sutton Trust – entitled Payback Time? – found that a typical student would now leave university with "much higher debts than before", averaging more than £44,000.

The researchers estimate that graduates will now repay a total of £66,897 on average – equating to £35,446 in 2014 prices.

Tuition fees in England rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2012. Stormont opted to freeze fees at £3,500 for local students at local universities.

Earlier this week, two of our Young Editors told the Employment and Learning Minister they were concerned about tuition fees and student debt.

They said there was no financial training in schools for young people to acquire the money-management skills needed for post-university life.

St Patrick's Grammar School pupil Christopher Seeley (17), who hopes to study law, said more practical information was required about the labour market.

"I've no idea what my average salary will be when I graduate, or what deductions I can expect to be taken from my salary in terms of tax etc, before I even think about repaying student loans," he said.

In response, Stephen Farry said their points would be put towards a review of careers policy which is under way at Stormont.

FACTFILE

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 9% on all income above this). Students under the new regime pay an above-inflation interest rate of up to 3%, which begins while they are still at university. Under the former system, there was no real rate of interest. Debts are now written off after 30 years.

View from our Young Editors

KATE UMPHRAY

"I think it's important because young people don't think far enough into their future to see how much debt they could potentially get themselves into. I would prefer to stay in Northern Ireland to do my Business degree but one of the deciding factors is that I don't want to be in debt to my university at the age of 50 – I could be doing so much more with that money!"

RACHAEL ADAMSON

"I'm currently filling in my student finance forms and deciding whether or not I should stay here to take advantage of the smaller fees. What I get frustrated with is the presumption they make that because my parents both work and earn a certain amount of money they'll be able to lend me as much as I need. This certainly isn't the case."

 

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