Student debt in Northern Ireland stands at over £3 billion, according to the latest figures from the company that runs the student loan system for the UK government.
The BBC reports that the outstanding student debt for Northern Ireland is £3.3 billion. Tuition fees in Northern Ireland, currently just over £4,000, are significantly lower than the England and Wales, where fees reach over £9,000 a year. However, like England and Wales, students pay tuition fees using an income-contingent loan scheme.
The latest figures reveal that tuition fee and maintenance loan debt has risen by 10 per cent since last year. In Northern Ireland, only one in six people have fully repaid their loans.
Since the system began in 1998, 243,000 people in Northern Ireland have taken out loans to cover fees and living costs at university or college. However, when it comes to repaying, only 32,300 people have done so. Forty-three thousand people haven’t started repaying them.
In Northern Ireland, students start repaying their loan when they have finished their course or reached the earnings threshold of £18,330. Those students who began repaying their loan in 2018 will owe £22,440 on average – £1,500 more than students who began repaying their loan in 2017.
Students borrowed £208 million in loans in 2017/18.
The latest figures from the Student Loans Company, which administers the income-contingent loan scheme system, come as Ireland continues to debate a new funding model for higher education. Scepticism towards loans has grown among Irish politicians, with both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor ruling out a UK-style loan scheme system for Ireland.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has led the charge for publicly funded education on both sides of the border and has increasingly lobbied against a loan scheme for Irish students. The majority of university presidents all support the introduction of an income-contingent loan scheme.