More than a quarter of sixth-formers may be deterred from going on to higher education because of worries over student debt, the National Union of Students claimed this week.
A snapshot survey of 500 sixth-form students attending the higher education fair in Birmingham last month found that 26 per cent felt so concerned about the prospect of getting into debt that they might decide not to enter university or college. Yet more than half of those questioned seriously underestimated average levels of student debt, expecting that by graduation they would owe less than Pounds 999.
NUS officials preparing for a national rally and demonstration against student hardship in London on Wednesday claimed these estimates were Pounds 7,000 less than the expected level of debt for a student starting university this year, and at least Pounds 3,500 lower than the amount a student starting this year would eventually owe the Student Loans Company.
Jim Murphy, NUS president, called on the Government to acknowledge student debt and end cuts in the student grant.
"Students face the alternative of dreadful debts or dropping out altogether, and would-be students from poorer backgrounds will be deterred from continuing their education and denied, through debt, the opportunity to learn," he said.
An NUS accommodation costs survey, the results of which are due to be published next month, has shown that in a growing number of cases the cost of hall fees exceeds the maximum maintenance grant, in one case by as much as Pounds 1,800 a year, forcing many students into debt from day one.
This week's rally was timed to fall before the Budget, as a reminder that last year Chancellor Kenneth Clarke announced a staged 30 per cent cut in grants.
Mr Murphy said: "The Government may well accuse NUS of scare-mongering. But it is their policy of forcing students into debt which is frightening off sixth-formers."