If you attended a UK university sometime in the last two years since the coalition government increased tuition fees, you probably clung onto one comforting truth: things were bad, but they weren't as bad as the US. After all, this is the country where people pay hand over fist to take Beyoncé classes, right? Ha! Suckers!
Turns out we were all wrong. A report out today by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) expresses "significant concern" about growing levels of UK student debt. How significant? According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, students will graduate with an average of £44,035 of student debt. America's class of 2014, on the other hand, will only graduate $33,000 in debt.
Of course, the university loans system differs here in that students only begin to pay off their fees once they start earting £21,000. But the HEC warns that increasing debt means that even graduates employed in respectable public sector professions will be unable to work their fees off by the end of the 30-year repayment period.
"We have created a system whereby everybody feels they are getting a bad deal," the authors of the report warn. "This is not sustainable."
"The Commission fundamentally questions any system that charges higher education at a rate where the average graduate will not be able to pay it back."
"We are deeply concerned that the Government may have created a loan repayment system where, for example, a teacher is unable to secure a mortgage at age 35 because of the high level of monthly loan repayment."
And they're talking about teachers here. Imagine how bad the situation will be for the thousands of students who graduate into zero hours contracts or stop-gap menial jobs. Who can imagine getting a mortgage when you can't even pay the rent on your shitty bedsit?
Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that 73% of graduates will not repay their debt in full, essentially creating a funding "black hole" that the government has no choice but to write off at the taxpayers' expense. The HEC describes this as the "worst of both worlds" for everyone involved.