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Teenage aspirations dampened by debt

Faced with the possibility of running up debts of pound;21,000, sixth-formers said they would prefer to live with their parents, and save on hefty accommodation costs.

Seventeen-year-old Daniel Pallett attends Bosworth community college, in Leicester. He plans to study computer science at his home-town university.

"Staying at home will be a lot easier: if I stayed on campus it would cost more. It's something you've got to think about really carefully," he said.

This is a trend witnessed by Chris Conway, head of sixth form at Archbishop Grimshaw comprehensive in Solihull.

"I'm trying to raise students' aspirations and ambitions. But more and more pupils are staying locally," he said. "Students who would traditionally leave the area and go to more prestigious universities are now being put off."

Among the attractions of staying at home, Mr Conway said, is the ease of converting an out-of-school job into regular part-time work. But many students believe that the income from weekend and holiday work will barely cover their cost of living, if higher fees are introduced.

"I'm going to take a year out before university, so I can save up money.

Though I will probably have to work during term and holidays anyway," said 16-year-old Alison Abrahams, who attends High Storrs comprehensive, in Sheffield.

"You go to university knowing you will run up debts. The Government wants to encourage more people from poorer backgrounds to go to university, but they are the people who cannot afford to pay."

The subtle transformation of the gap year, from extended indolence on a far-flung beach to joyless hard graft to earn money, is a trend likely to spread. And, teachers fear, it may ultimately lead to a decline in the number of university applications.

"Students might use a gap year to make up their mind whether they want to go to university or not," said Shay McDonnell, head of sixth form at Caldew school in Cumbria. "If they find a fulfilling job, and they're earning money, my concern is that they'll just stay on, and decide not to go on to university."

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