Colleges Prove Great Route to Degrees

Major differences between the way UK colleges and universities deliver higher education (HE) courses mean that college students are graduating with an average of around £17,500 less debt than their university counterparts, according to new research released today by the Association of Colleges (AoC).

As the Browne Review of higher education and the Comprehensive Spending Review throw the spotlight on the issue of HE debt more starkly than ever, the AoC’s study has found that, on average, college students graduating in the next few years expect to owe a total of around £5,681.

By contrast, a recent study by university researchers Push2 has forecast that students who started at university last year are likely to owe more than £23,200 by the time they leave and new students should reckon on around £1,500 more than that.

The AoC’s  findings highlight how a combination of greater opportunities  to work part-time while studying, the ability to live at home and reduced travel costs are all key factors in minimising the overall debt levels of HE college students.

Stuart Wesselby, Principal at East Durham College, said: “In the wake of the Browne review on tuition fees and the changes to higher education funding set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review, prospective HE students are faced with making significant upfront investments in their future. Now, more than ever, they will want to weigh up their different options carefully to see how they can keep debts to a minimum while achieving a high quality qualification.

“These initial findings highlight the vital role that colleges are playing in providing high quality, affordable, flexible HE courses to young people and adults across the UK, offering an attractive alternative route to achieve the qualifications they need to progress in their chosen careers. We think this is an issue that requires further scrutiny and would welcome further research in order to ensure that prospective students are able to make the best possible choices about their future.”

Cuts in higher education funding will also affect colleges and, like universities they will be looking at their future fee structures. However, college tuition fees have, on average, been lower than those set by universities. As colleges deliver HE in a very different way, with a greater emphasis on part-time provision, students have more scope to keep their costs down while still achieving Foundation, Bachelors and Masters degree courses at a local level.

According to the research:

  • Almost 70% of college higher education students work full or part-time while studying
  • Average earnings of college higher education students while studying are £10,825
  • 71% of college higher education students live at home with parents/family
  • Just over one in ten college higher education students incur no travel costs in getting to college
  • The average student loan for higher education college students is £4776 per year
  • The average cost of studying higher education at college, including fees, living costs, travel expenses, study materials etc is £ 8,967 per year

Adrian Bailey, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, commented: “In today’s straightened economic times, HE students want the flexibility to be able to work and study at the same time, as well as the choice to study close to their own homes. Colleges, including Sandwell College in my own constituency, enable them to do this and minimise the personal debt they incur as a result.”

There are currently 168,000 students on Higher Education courses at over 260 colleges around the country. The range of HE qualifications and training that college students can access at a local level is vast – from full Bachelors and Masters Degrees to Higher National Diplomas and professional vocational qualifications such as accountancy, journalism and teaching.

East Durham College student Martin Young, 22, from Hartlepool, has just started the second year of a Foundation Degree in Sport.  Martin decided against going to university because of the costs involved. Martin said: “I did have a look at universities but the costs were dramatically higher; it was one of the main reasons I chose to study at a college.”

Martin is hoping to go on to study his third year at Sunderland University next year to gain his honours degree. He added: “The modules I’ve studied have set me up wonderfully for going to Sunderland to do my final year. I’m going to end up with the same qualification as if I’d gone to university but it’s cheaper. I don’t understand why more people don’t do it.”