Taking action in higher education
Voter registration pledge Trans flag

International study shows students studying in England have highest debt while UK universities spend least on staff

10 September 2019 | last updated: 16 September 2019

Students studying at English universities are graduating with much higher debts than students in other countries and are far more likely to finish their studies indebted, while UK universities spend less on their staff than in other countries, according to a major international study released today.

  • Students at English universities leave with £40,452 average debt

  • 94% of students leave English universities in debt

  • UK universities spend just 64% of income on staff, lower that OECD and EU average

The Education at a Glance report, from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shows that 94% of students studying at English universities leave with debt and the average debt is £40,452.

Just seven of the 32 countries the OECD found data for spent a lower percentage of their income on staff than UK. The UK universities spent just 64% of their income on staff, compared to an OECD average of 69% and an EU average of 70%. This is despite the fact that students say they want universities to spend their fee money on teaching.

The OECD produced data for 11 countries' debt levels and found the English average debt (£40,452) was almost twice as much as the next highest of £23,357 in Norway. The report comes as ballots open in 69 universities for strike action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme and at 147 institutions over pay, workloads, equality and casualisation. Both ballots opened yesterday (Monday) and close on Wednesday 30 October.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Students are leaving university with world record levels of debts, yet their universities are not investing in staff. Students have made it clear that they want to see more money prioritised for teaching and, as a minimum, we should be matching the level of investment made by other countries.

'Universities have to recognise that staff are their most important asset and invest in them properly. That starts with a fair offer on pay and conditions.'

Table 1: Average student debt on graduation

COUNTRY (where data was available)

AVERAGE STUDENT DEBT ON GRADUATION (£) *

England

£40,452

Norway

£23,357

Japan

£23,008

New Zealand

£19,535

Sweden

£15,558

Netherlands

£15,442

Canada

£14,342

Denmark

£11,315

Finland

£9,538

Australia

£8,528

Slovakia

£2,656

*Converted to pounds from OECD figures in US dollars. Exchange rate $1-£0.81 7/9/19
(C5.3, page 330)

Table 2: Percentage of students graduating with debt

COUNTRY

% OF STUDENTS GRADUATING WITH DEBT

England

94

Australia

78

Sweden

73

New Zealand

72

Netherlands

67

Canada

60

Finland

57

(C5.3, page 330)

Table 3: Percentage of total income spent on staff by universities

COUNTRY

% OF TOTAL INCOME SPENT ON STAFF BY UNIVERSITIES

Colombia

97

Greece

89

Ireland

84

France

80

Poland

75

Belgium

74

Iceland

74

Spain

74

Portugal

72

Russia

72

Netherlands

71

Lithuania

70

Slovenia

70

Israel

69

Latvia

69

Norway

68

Turkey

68

Luxembourg

67

Austria

66

Germany

66

Canada

66

Hungary

66

Sweden

65

United States

65

United Kingdom

64

Estonia

64

Finland

63

Australia

61

Czech Republic

60

Korea

59

Japan

59

Italy

57

 

 

EU23 average

70

OECD average

69

(C6.2, page 340)

Comments