Almost half the value of student loans will never be repaid, a report has suggested.
It is expected that 40% to 45% of the value of loans to higher education borrowers will not be paid back, with the public sector picking up the cost.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest Education At A Glance report, at 70% England has the largest share of students benefiting from remission and/or forgiveness across the countries with available data.
The report also found that England has the highest tuition fees of all the OECD countries, except the United States.
In 2015, universities charged tuition fees of £9,000 a year for a bachelor’s degree, about four times more than in 2005 due to changes to higher education funding, the OECD said.
But it states this is offset by a “well-developed” system of financial support for students.
However, the report finds that despite the high fees, universities in the UK are still very attractive to international students.
In 2015, international students in the UK accounted for 18% of tertiary enrolment, behind only Luxembourg (47%) and New Zealand (20%) – and three times above OECD’s average of 6%.
The UK takes in 14% of all international students across OECD countries – the second highest after the US, with 43% of them in doctoral or equivalent programmes.
The report, published on Tuesday, further found that the teaching workforce in the UK is one of the youngest among all the OECD countries, and the starting salaries for pre-primary to upper secondary education are lower than the OECD average.
In primary schools, 31% of teachers are aged 30 or younger, compared to the organisation’s average of 12%.
The report also found the UK average age for people graduating was 23, the lowest of all OECD countries.
But all of those who graduated did not always get a job to match their qualifications.
The 2012 Survey of Adult Skills showed that university-educated adults in England or Northern Ireland were more likely to work in jobs that require lower qualifications, than on average across OECD countries.
Some 28% of university degree holders in England, and 24% in Northern Ireland, reported being overqualified for their jobs – compared to 14% on average across OECD countries and economies that participated in the survey.
Shadow education minister Gordon Marsden said: “The Tories have given us the highest tuition fees in the world, but staff and students have precious little to show for it.”
He added: “The next Labour government will scrap tuition fees, ending the scandal of students graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt and ensuring that a university education is accessible for all those who want one, as part of a National Education Service for the many, not the few.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “I have been clear that I want to see a world-class education for every child, whatever their background, and this OECD study shows the great progress we have made in our efforts, highlighting the many strengths of our education system.
“Since 2010 there are 1.9 million more children taught in good or outstanding schools, the attainment gap between rich and poor has shrunk by 10% and we have reformed qualifications to make them something parents, universities and employers can trust.
“The result of this is that, as the report recognises, we have high levels of young people in education or employment, the financial gains from going to university outstrip the cost and people are more likely to continue learning throughout their lives.”