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University pupils across Kent speak out about student finance, debt and learning throughout the Covid-19 pandemic

It is no surprise that university students can rack up five-figure loans, but what is it like to live with the looming debt at such a young age?

With freshers week beginning and tough money decisions having to be made we spoke to some of Kent's undergraduates about the fairness of fees and how it feels to prepare for a job that will pay them less per year than cost of their studies.

Georgia Erangey is £40,000 in debt
Georgia Erangey is £40,000 in debt

Georgia Erangey is a 20-year-old university student from Gravesend, she said: "At the end of my three years at uni I'm in £40,000 of debt.

"That money covered my course fees and my maintenance loan.

"I do think of it as real debt even though it doesn't affect your credit score, I panic about money a lot and I'm still going to have to pay it back.

"I really don't understand why it is so much debt for three years worth of learning."

When you finish university you only have to start paying back your loan when you earn more than £27,295 a year.

Georgia is studying primary education in Canterbury, she continued: "When I leave uni and start my job as a teacher I may get around £26-27k a year, so I'll have to start paying my loan back as soon as I start working.

"I know you don't pay much back but it will be at a time when I'm starting life on my own and every little bit of money counts.

"I find it really unfair the way student loans work. I'm fortunate as I was able to work and also received money from my family.

"However, it does feel that you should only go to uni if you can afford it. It isn't equal, it isn't accessible for everyone.

"Everyone's study loans are paid for but the amount of maintenance money you get changes depending on your situation at home."

The minimum maintenance loan students can get is £3,516, which is paid to students with a household income of £58,222 or more.

Georgia Erangey is worried about paying back her student loan
Georgia Erangey is worried about paying back her student loan

The maximum is £12,382 and is paid to students whose annual household income is £25,000 or less.

Georgia added: "My parents are divorced so I have no financial input from dad, this means my maintenance loan is more than other peoples.

"Despite this uni life is a struggle, it's hard and even I have had to work and study at the same time to make ends meet, it is so stressful, I'm not sure how others do it with even less money.

"When I started uni everyone warned me about how skint I would be but I didn't realise quite how much debt I'd be in.

Georgia Erangey from Gravesend speaks about her uni debt
Georgia Erangey from Gravesend speaks about her uni debt

"A £27,000 job compared to the £40,000 debt I'm in to be able to do it is a bit of a joke.

"However, don't let money stop you, don't let debt put you off uni.

"I adore university, I love living away from home but be well prepared to budget. It is definitely an experience."

Unlike Georgia, not all students find their finances a burden. Two other girls feel that their university loans aren't like real debt at all.

One young lady, also from Gravesend, who does not wish to be named due to her future career, is studying social work in Brighton.

The girl who does not wish to me named will be in over £50,000 of debt when she finishes uni. Stock image
The girl who does not wish to me named will be in over £50,000 of debt when she finishes uni. Stock image

She said: "I’m in my final year and by the end of my course I will be in more than £50,000 of debt.

"I am aiming for a job in children's social services and am likely to start on a salary of £28k a year.

"However, I don't view the debt as a real debt as it doesn’t affect your credit score and it is also very unlikely that I will ever fully pay it off."

If you started your university course on or after September 1, 2012, your loans and debt are usually written off 30 years after you started repaying it.

She explained that although the money she owes doesn't scare her she does think students pay too much.

She added: "After being a student during the pandemic it’s clear to see we haven’t got our money’s worth (£9,250 per academic year).

"It’s quite hard to budget and live at uni. The rent for student houses is insane and it’s likely that most people’s maintenance loans do not even cover this.

"Each term I am likely to have around £500 to last me for three months after all my rent is paid.

"Additionally, for courses like mine, where we have to do placements, it's impossible to have a part-time job. So I would say I am definitely not financially stable at uni and rely a lot on my student overdraft.

"For anyone wanting to go to uni, I say definitely go for it if you are sure that the subject you choose is what you wish to pursue. Do not go just for the experience!"

At present around £17 billion is loaned to around 1.3 million students in England each year.

A statement on the House of Commons library website says: "The value of outstanding loans at the end of March 2021 reached £141 billion and the government forecasts the value of outstanding loans to be around £560 billion by the middle of this century.

"The average debt among students who finished their courses in 2020 was £45,000.

"However, the government expects that only 25% of current full-time undergraduates who take out loans will repay them in full."

Laura Robinson is a 20-year-old from Hartley who is currently studying fashion media and promotion at UCA in Rochester.

Laura Robinson from Hartley
Laura Robinson from Hartley

She explained that she also feels her uni debt is unfair seeing as most of her studying has been at home throughout the pandemic.

She said: "Currently I'm in £12,400 of debt after my first year, however when I finish uni I'm hoping to become a fashion buyer which can earn me between £30k and £100k a year.

"In all honesty the debt doesn't really bother me as I know university is going to have a big impact on my future."

Laura explained that she does understand why university costs so much as it is undoubtedly shaping her future, however she does feel the pandemic has made last year's fees unreasonable.

She continued: "Due to Covid I do think it's unfair we had to pay the full amount for a year of studying we basically did online.

Laura is studying at UCA in Rochester
Laura is studying at UCA in Rochester

"I live at home and travel into uni, which I haven't done a lot of due to lockdown anyway, so the loan seemed to be a bit of waste.

"Still, I would definitely recommend uni, you do need it for certain careers and as long as you balance studying, work and your social life you should be fine."

Although many first-year students have started their new course this month, for those studying their A-levels and thinking of starting university in 2022 it is suggested you apply for your student finance before your results, even if you are unsure.

A spokesman for Canterbury Christ Church University's finance office said: "We have a range of services to support students with their finances.

"As part of our commitment to an inclusive higher education, we offer university bursaries, grants and scholarships, to support students to access a university education or complete their studies if they find themselves in financial hardship.

Canterbury Christ Church University. Picture: Google Street View
Canterbury Christ Church University. Picture: Google Street View

"In addition, our student support advisors offer advice on budgeting and money management including student banking, saving and managing debt.

"Unitemps, the university’s recruitment service for students and graduates, offers part-time work within the local community to help students boost their finances, as well as developing employment skills and building their CV."

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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