MPs hear that debt is students' main headache

February 12, 2009

Lectures based on PowerPoint slides and chaotic timetables were among the complaints students levelled at universities this week when giving evidence to a committee of MPs.

But when asked what they would most like to change about higher education, the number-one concern of the 11 students who gave evidence to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee on 9 February was the level of student debt.

Ken Harris, a mature student on course for a first-class degree from the University of Wolverhampton, told MPs how he had given up a £25,000-a-year job to study in a bid to change his career path, but would graduate with £25,000 of debt.

Others said money worries meant they could not afford further study or that friends with identical qualifications had been put off going to university for the same reason.

The message from students was that, in a credit-crunch environment, an emphasis on employability was more important than ever. Many valued opportunities to take part in extracurricular activities that they felt would boost their CVs.

Ricky Chotai, from the University of Salford, said his priority was high-quality teaching that was good value for the fees he paid.

"There is nothing more frustrating than when you go to a lecture and you have a lecturer just reading PowerPoint slides," he said.

Others said strong student support was the key to a good university experience.

Lucy Davidson, a mature nursing student at Anglia Ruskin University, said that when her daughter fell ill she learnt just how supportive the university could be.

But institutions did not always understand their students' external commitments, according to some of the group.

Mr Chotai said that last year a Salford timetable was released two days before the semester started.

"Some people had to leave part-time jobs because they could not give information about their availability ... Lecturers weren't turning up because they didn't know they were scheduled to teach. In any other organisation it wouldn't be acceptable."

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