Medical students face £64,000 debts

24 January 2004
If the planned top-up fees go ahead, Medics will face university debts of up to £64,000, the British Medical Association has warned. Despite promises of grants and bursaries for the poorest undergraduates, the BMA claim a London student on a six-year course, whose parents earned £30,000, could run up a £64,661 debt.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke said the figures were "methodologically flawed" and "grossly excessive".

The government wants to raise maximum annual tuition fees from the current flat rate of £1,125 to £3,000 by 2006.

Daniel Gibbons, deputy chairman of the BMA's medical students committee, said: "Debts of this level would put anyone off becoming a doctor. The government's measures to help the poorest students seem to be aimed at undergraduates on three- year courses, and fail to take into account the fact that medical students study for an extra two or three years. On top of this, we face extra costs for travel and equipment, and have fewer opportunities to supplement our income through paid work."

Mr Clarke dismissed the way the figures had been calculated. He said the government would pay medics' fees in years 5 and 6 of their courses and provide means-tested bursaries.

He suggested that the earning power of medical graduates would enable them to pay off their debts at a quicker rate.

"Doctors earn considerably in excess of the national average. Figures collected in March 2003 show that 73% of newly qualified medical graduates in hospital posts earn around £35,000 per annum. This compares very favourably with the average starting salary for graduate-level jobs of £18,000 in 2002-03.

"So they will be able to pay off their student loan comparatively rapidly," Mr Clarke said.