PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS: Graduate Debt Soars for Students from the Poorest Families ; HIGHER EDUCATION

Article excerpt

STUDENTS FROM Britain's poorest homes have nearly 50 per cent more debt when graduating than those from middle- class homes, government research revealed yesterday.

The average student debt has almost trebled over the past four years to pounds 8,666, the study said. Students whose parents earn less than pounds 20,500 a year are likely to leave university owing pounds 9,708 on average, compared with pounds 6,806 for those from better-off families.

The findings will embarrass ministers as they prepare to overhaul the fees system. Proposals due to be confirmed in the Queen's Speech next week will abolish upfront fees from 2006 and replace them with a system in which fees will be repaid by graduates earning more than pounds 15,000 per year. The maximum level of fees will increase to pounds 3,000 per year at the same time. But grants of up to pounds 1,000 a year will be reintroduced for the poorest students from 2004.

The Department for Education and Skills report, compiled by Professor Claire Callender of South Bank University in London, said: "Students from lower-income backgrounds were more likely to be in debt and anticipated leaving university with the largest debts."

Students' finances were compared with four years ago, before the Government abolished grants and introduced tuition fees of pounds 1,125 a year. It said although the poorest students were exempt from fees they had to take out bigger loans for accommodation.

Students from wealthier families, whose parents were classified as able to afford to pay tuition fees, often found their parents refused to do so. …