Student debt 'deters pupils'

24 October 2003
Most year ten pupils would be put off going to university by the threat of incurring a £20,000 debt, new research warns.

The survey of pupils in their first GCSE year found that 85 per cent would change their mind if they accumulated a debt of £20,000 on graduation.

The current year ten students will be the first to be affected by government's top-up fees due to take effect in 2006

And a third of those who wanted to go to university said they would change their mind if fees were raised to just £2,000 a year - £1,000 less than the government has proposed.

Around 70 per cent said that cost was a factor in choosing a degree, though less than one per cent of the sample said they were saving for university. More than 70 per cent believed their parents or the government would help support them while they were studying.

More than half of the 1,018 pupils surveyed by researchers from Brighton University thought the government still provided grants.

More girls than boys would be deterred from applying to university because of cost. The study found that two thirds of female pupils would not go into higher education if it meant graduating £10,000 in the red. Less than half of boys felt the same.

The 14 and 15-year-olds questioned for the NUS report came from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The NUS president, Mandy Telford, said: "This is further proof that top-up fees will create a two-tier system for students, where rich students can pick and choose any course at any place and poorer students will choose cheaper courses.

"If the government is genuinely committed to opening up university to the brightest and the best, then they must remove the threat of fees and debt. We do not want a UK higher education system where ability to pay is more important than academic ability."

The Department for Education and Skills said: "The same concerns were being raised when we first introduced tuition fees in 1998 and since that time student numbers have risen. Our proposals ensure that from 2006 university will be free at the point of access and fair at the point of repayment."