The student loan system has come under fire from peers after figures showed nurses must repay thousands of pounds more than highly-paid bankers and lawyers during their careers.
High interest rates on student loans should be cut from 6 per cent to 1.5 per cent to prevent middle-earning graduates from paying back more, the House of Lords economic affairs committee said.
The student loan repayment system in England is less expensive for highly-paid legal professionals and financiers who are able to pay off debts earlier on in their life and accumulate less interest.
Male nurses and midwives will repay a total of £133,000 over their working lives – which is thousands of pounds more than male financiers (£127,000) and legal professionals (£114,000).
The figures, which were published last year, have prompted fresh criticism from the cross-party committee, which has called for “immediate reform” to a “deeply unfair” system of fees and loans.
“The student loan system does not appear as progressive as its advocates have suggested – graduates who only just pay off the loan within the 30 years will pay far more in real terms than higher-earning graduates who pay the loan off sooner,” the report says.
The report from the committee argued that the higher education system offers poor value for money to students and the taxpayer, and that funding is “too heavily skewed” towards degrees.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, chairman of the committee, said: “The way we expect students to access higher and further education is deeply unfair. We must create a single system, including apprenticeships, that offers more choice and better value for money.”
He added: “The accounting trickery attempted by the government in 2012, in which the high rate of interest on student loans created the fiscal illusion that government borrowing is lower than it actually is, has had a devastating effect on the treatment of students in England.
“It is unacceptable to expect future taxpayers to bear the brunt of funding today’s students.“
Emily Chapman, vice president for further education at the National Union of Students, said: “[The report] confirms what many of us working in the sector have known for some time – the current student funding model is simply not fit for purpose.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Universities and Colleges Union, said the report should be fed into the government’s post-18 education review, which is being undertaken by Philip Augar.
She said: “Now, more than ever, we must be able to offer decent opportunities for people to improve their skills, and to learn new ones.
“Part-time study and further education colleges will be central to that mission if it is to succeed.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are undertaking a major review of post-18 education and funding, to make sure students are getting value for money and genuine choice between technical, vocational and academic routes.