Counting the cost of student life

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This is how it starts. Daughter #1’s long goodbye began this week with a meeting for parents at sixth form about university applications.

All things being equal, in 18 months she’ll be out of the house and gone.

If that wasn’t enough to throw us off guard, the first face we saw at the meeting was a parent we hadn’t clapped eyes on since we were in the same antenatal class in the summer of 1999 – which seems a long time ago now.

Doing A-levels is daunting enough but the hoops you have to jump through to apply for university is terrifying. Then you’re away from home for the first time, starting a new life with a bunch of people you’ve never met, in a strange city with too much time on your hands and there’s nobody to tell you what to do. Actually, that sounds pretty smart. Where do I sign up?

But the biggest worry is the debt mountain graduates face once they’ve got their degree, which, what with tuition fees and student loans, will be somewhere in the region of £50,000. So you’re in a 50 grand hole – plus interest – before you even start.

Tuition fees are the biggest con going. They all charge the maximum they can get away with (soon to be £9,250 a year) but you’re not telling me Scumbag College delivers the same level of education as the best university in the country. It’s like a North West Counties football club charging its fans £60 a ticket because they’ve heard that’s what they cost at Chelsea.

Oh, we heard all the nuts and bolts of how the loan is repaid, nothing at all until they’re earning £21,000 a year and then nine per cent of everything – for most of their working lives. If student loans and tuition fees were rebadged as a graduate tax then it would be a lot more honest, because that’s what it is. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to find work after graduation, which might make you think twice before spending three years reading butterfly husbandry in Hull.

Daughter #1 is very level-headed but when we told her that she’ll be paying for her student days to the tune of around £67 a month until she’s in her late 40s, she went a bit quiet and very pale.