Along with a degree in hand, university students in England are left with the highest debt to pay off while graduating, a new study reveals.
Data published by Sutton Trust compares England universities with those in Canada, US, Australia, and New Zealand. English students graduating under the new £9,000 fee structure owe an average of £44,000. However, in comparison, a typical US graduate faces debts ranging anywhere between £20,500 for students studying at public or private non-profit universities and £29,000 at private for-profit universities.
This glaring difference in student debts is also because of the generous scholarships available to US university students, including the Ivy League. They finish with £23,000 in debt despite a graduate course lasting four years in the US compared to three years in England.
The education charity, which campaigns for greater social mobility, is concerned for the poorest among British students who run up debts in excess of £50,000 at the end of their degree, thanks to the £9,000 tuition fee. The government's plans to abolition maintenance grants from September is likely to make matters worse for these students.
Their report — called the Degree of Debts — highlights disparities within the UK, with a different fee structure in Scotland; students from Wales are offered grants to study in England for less than £4,000 a year rather than up to £9,000. The report has also recommended better co-ordination between higher education ministers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and an annual assessment of the impact of tuition fee changes by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select committee in the House of Commons.
However, the study has shown that UK graduates benefit from an income contingent system held by the state. These are compounded by interest rates of up to 3% over inflation. But some of their American counterparts face even higher interest rates, with loans that are not income contingent.
While UK and Australian graduates benefit from state sponsored loans where repayments are linked to the income they earn, only 19% of US students receiving the most common federal loans are enrolled on similar schemes.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton trust, said: "These debt levels are by far the highest in the English speaking world and are more than double average debt levels at universities in the United States, where students study for four year programmes, rather than three.
"They impact on the ability of graduates to go to graduate schools, to afford a mortgage, the timing of having children and other major life decisions. The cost of going to university has become so expensive that more young people should seriously consider higher level apprenticeships, preferably to degree level."
"By choosing this route they will earn while they learn, incur less debt, and develop skills which are greatly valued in the workplace. We need more good apprenticeships to offer genuine alternatives to university degree," he said.