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Weighed down by debt

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A HIKE in tuition fees could further derail the career dreams of many black students, who are already being hit hard by racism and unequal opportunities, a student activist claims.

Kanja Sesay, black students officer at the National Union of Students (NUS), said plans by universities to raise tuition fees to £9,000 per year could cripple the life chances of many black students.

Sesay said students would be saddled with mounting debt that could take them longer to pay off – and hence lead to them paying back more on their loans – than white students.

“We should recognise that 75 percent of black people live in the 88 poorest wards in the UK,” Sesay said.

He told The Voice: “Black students will have to pay more back on their loans over time because of racial discrimination in pay.”

Sesay added: “Black students face higher rates of graduate unemployment, with 50 percent of young black people currently unemployed. Furthermore, within six months of graduation black students are three times more likely to be unemployed than white graduates, and are expected to earn up to nine percent less for the same within five years (of employment).”

The increase in tuition fees from £3,290 to £9,000 was passed in 2010 by the cost cutting coalition Government, after universities said they needed more funds. It is far more than the £1,000 per year that students paid in 1998.

Sesay said tuition fee rises coupled with removing the Education Maintenance Allowance “will inevitably lead to an even more ‘elitist’ system… creating an even greater race and class divide between higher education institutions.”

Zita Holborne, chair of Black Activist Rising Against Cuts, agrees with Sesay.

She said: “Black people would be disadvantaged and have to pay more because they are disproportionately impacted upon by the economic crisis."

“Black people are concentrated on lower grade jobs because of the discrimination. The pay gap is widening rather than narrowing.”

Some charities are also worried the fee rise could have a damaging effect on ethnic minorities even going to university.

“I think there is a risk that higher tuition would deter some ethnic minority from going to university,” said Wes Streeting, chief executive of social inclusion charity the Helena Kennedy Foundation.

Faced with backlash and student protests, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said in several interviews that the Government would provide avenues to ensure the least well off are not deterred from going to university.

NUS figures show 20 percent of all students are from black backgrounds.

A spokesperson for the Student Loans Company told The Voice the organisation did not have an ethnic breakdown of student loan repayments. It said the average debt for students who started repayments in 2011 was £17,240.

The annual PUSH University guide survey suggested last year that the average predicted debt for UK students on leaving university is £26,100 for those starting in 2011, but this could rise to £53,400 for 2012 entrants, a BBC report said.

On average, 25 percent of student debts is owed to sources apart from the Student Loans Company, it is reported. Data shows 13 percent is owed to parents and about seven percent is on credit cards or owed to banks.

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