A new report by The Sutton Trust shows that university graduates in the United Kingdom are left with the highest student loan debt in the English-speaking world — an average of £44,000 (~$64,000 USD), which is greater than the average debt load for students in Canada, Australia, and the United States.
“Degrees of Debt” suggests that UK students face even more debt than US students who attend private universities. American students studying for four years at public or private non-profit university graduate with an average of £20,500 in student loan debt (~$30,000 USD). Americans who attend private, for-profit universities leave with an average of £29,000 (~$42,000 USD).
The Sutton Trust and similar education advocacy groups worry that saddling graduates with such burdensome levels of debt will affect their ability to buy homes, start families, and engage in entrepreneurial ventures.
UK student debt levels are under increased scrutiny in the wake of increased tuition levels allowed by the government and a recent push to make changes to maintenance grants. Sir Peter Lampl, the founder of The Sutton Trust, said:
“The massive increase in tuition fees from just over £3,000 to £9,000 per annum and the abolition of the maintenance grant results in the poorest English university graduates facing debts on graduation of over £50,000 with interest rates on the debt compounding at up to 3% over inflation.”
The report notes differences between countries concerning the origination of loans and how those loans are paid back. Students in the UK finance most of their education through state funds, while students in the US take advantage of a mix of federal, private and institution-level financial aid. That allows UK students to benefit from income-based repayment plans, while relatively few students in the US — just 19% — have income-based repayment arrangements. US President Barack Obama’s administration developed and encouraged a proliferation of income-driven repayment options that are attracting roughly 5,000 new borrowers per day.
Graduates from New Zealand accrue an average of £23,000 in student loan debt, while Australians register nearly £21,000. Canada provides the least-burdensome undergraduate education, leaving their graduates with an average of ~£15,000 at the conclusion of a degree.
Students in both the UK and Australia are eligible to take a “repayment holiday” when their income is reduced or when financial disaster strikes. US students with federal loans are eligible for similar provisions, including loan deferment.
The Sutton Trust has offered a series of recommendations for how both the UK government and universities should proceed. The Trust has called on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee in Parliament to pay more attention to enrollment demographics, including non-traditional and disadvantaged pupils, whose numbers have been slipping in recent years. The Trust has also called on the government to work more closely with the higher education sector and its institutions so that collaboration can lead to effective solutions.
The report cites the Office for Budget Responsibility as providing necessary aid by analysing the value of university degrees for UK students and considering the effects of budgeting/funding changes on both current and future students.
Universities, too, have an important role to play. The Trust would like to see universities spend 10% or more of their outreach budgets on increasing broader participation in higher education.
The Sutton Trust was founded in Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 with a mission to improve social mobility in the United Kingdom through education. The Trust focuses on reducing both the income and opportunity gaps that say perpetuates social and economic inequality in the United Kingdom.