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Middle class female students most burdened by student debt, new research suggests


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Following the tuition fees hike of 2012 the image of students being forever crippled by debt seems to no longer be a hackneyed stereotype but rather an unpalatable reality born of the financial downturn. It is now estimated that average debts could reach £53,000 for UK students starting in 2012, double the figure for 2011, as indicated by The Push University Guide.

In addition to the startling figures that expose the ever-growing burden of student debt, recent research led by Professor Ron Johnston from the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences has suggested that the ‘squeezed middle’ of graduates will end up paying far more for their student loans than their well paid peers or low earners. Johnston also suggests that women will face the highest repayments, as their salaries are usually lower than those of men with the equal qualifications, occupying the same jobs.

Such inequalities were initially discovered using the government repayment calculator that reveals that students who finish university with debts of £50,000 would repay £115,807 over 19 years, based on an optimistic starting salary of £35,000.

Alarmingly however, graduates who enter the world of work with a salary of £25,000 would shell out £159,899 over 30 years, with £26,664 waived as after thirty years loans are eventually written off.

In contrast, some students would never have to pay loans back as repayments do not begin until a graduate’s annual earnings reach the £21,000 mark.

Professor Johnston warned that women could be most affected, as salaries for women still tend to be are lower on average than men in the same positions.

Take for example the world of banking in which a woman’s starting salary hovers around the £22,500 mark compared to a man’s starting salary of £29,000. This culminates in a difference in repayments of around £21,650 as a woman who works in banking would repay £131,416 over 30 years, with 31,796 being written off after thirty years of onerous loan repayments. Conversely, her male equivalent would pay off £109,766 and would be debt-free after a period of just under 22 years.

‘This seems both counter-intuitive and inequitable,’ argues Professor Johnston, before adding that ‘the Government’s system will protect the poorly paid, those with high incomes will soon clear their debts and the losers will be those in the “squeezed middle”.

 ‘Come the 2015 election, it will be about the time repayments are going to start  and people will begin to realise what they mean.

‘Parties may have to think whether, if they want to go on charging fees, they ought to make the system fairer.’


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