Belfast Telegraph

The sharp lessons in students' debt

Editor's Viewpoint

Young people in Northern Ireland find themselves in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to seeking meaningful employment. First of all jobs are in very short supply with one in five 16-24 year-olds unemployed. Secondly, if they seek to equip themselves with additional skills by going on to third level education they may very well end up saddled with considerable debts. The student debt bill, as we report today, stands at a barely credible £1.2bn and rising rapidly.

Indeed so quickly is the debt total spiralling that the Student Loans Company is fast resembling one of those bad banks from the days of the global economic crash which had a ledger full of loans which might never be repaid. Students don't have to start paying back their loans until they reach a certain salary threshold and with unemployment continuing to remain stubbornly high, that could be a long time in the future.

But what alternatives do young people have?

There are insufficient vocational courses or apprenticeships for those who are less academically inclined to enable them to progress to good value jobs, even if they existed. And certainly the disorder on our streets during the past year will have hampered efforts to woo inward investment which could create high value employment prospects.

Little wonder then, that so many apply to university or college in the hope that when they graduate their prospects will have improved.

It has to be remembered that young people who decide to study here are much better off than those who opt for institutions in other regions of the UK. There tuition fees can reach £9,000 a year compared to the £3,757 in the province. The abolition of the cap on tuition fees by Westminster will remain a stain on its record. And future generations will readily recognise the irony of being lumbered with significant debts by people who enjoyed a free – or relatively cheap – education.

They are unlikely to forgive that readily.

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