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  1. ITV Report

Is the rising cost of going to university still worth it?

Thousands of A Level students are finding out on Thursday if they've made the grade to get to university - but the true cost of their extended education will probably not be in their thoughts.

Today's students face loans of around £9,250 per year and spiralling living costs, for instance rent and bills adding up to more than £500 per month in some areas.

So is a higher education still worth it in 2019 - and will it still lead to a graduate job?

The accounting sector had the most Graduate Vacancies in 2018. Credit: The Graduate Market in 2018

Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis said it's "absolutely" worth the cost - but students need more help with financing.

For the majority of school leavers in 2019, he said going to university remains "a great, transformational opportunity" and "life changing in so many ways".

Mr Jarvis pointed to research which has found graduates earn on average £10,000 more per year than non-graduates and the "increasing number of graduate vacancies", adding: "Employers want more not less graduates."

ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster asked students in Nottingham whether it is worth the cost of going to university.

Alex and Ben said the cost of university is expensive but will be worth it because of the facilities and the course structure.

Mr Jarvis added that universities offer the individual the opportunity to "do something you're absolutely passionate about", "follow your dreams and understand your subject in depth" and "gain confidence and understand yourself as a person".

And he said there is a big value for the rest of society.

"Graduates that are working in vital roles in public and charitable sectors - nurses, doctors, social workers - these are people who have gone through university," he said.

Starting salaries for graduates from 2008 to 2018. Credit: The Graduate Market in 2018

What about the suggestion that degrees - and future job prospects - are only valuable to those with the highest grades?

"The vast majority of people get a good experience and get benefit from their degree," Mr Jarvis argued.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, which manages 136 universities. Credit: Universities UK

But what about the rising cost of the education?

Mr Jarvis defended the student loans system as "very progressive", saying only those who move into higher paying graduate jobs are required to pay the high fees off.

Thousands of A Level students find out on Thursday if they've made the grade to get to university. Credit: PA

But he did support calls to bring down some of the interest rates attached to the loans.

And what about the cost of living?

"I would like to see the Government bring back targeted maintenance grants so students have more cash in their pockets," Mr Jarvis said.

"There are students who are having to work long hours, which is affecting their education."

Many students are unaware that extra funding can be available to them. Credit: PA

The debate on whether to study beyond school often quickly focuses on the rapidly rising costs of student loans.

However Karen Kennard, director of The Scholarship Hub which helps students pay for higher education, told ITV News the discussion of headline figures masks a more common concern she hears over financing.

"How they're going to live is the really big issue affecting applicants today," she said.

"The figures that are banded around (for the total cost of university) are £50,000 plus but £27,000 is paid up front."

The true cost of A-level students' extended education will probably not be in their thoughts. Credit: PA

Ms Kennard said the typical annual fund you might find on The Scholarship Hub is worth around £1,500.

"It might not sound much in the grand scheme of things but it can go quite a long way," said said, adding that the take-up is increasing every year.

Yet she said a recent Which? study found more than two thirds of students were unaware this funding even existed.

Ms Kennard said her own university experience 30 years ago was "life changing" but accepts the demand on the current intake has shifted.

"I studied languages - which I've never used professionally," she said.

"Students now need to bear in mind how (their course is) going to lead to a career. There's definitely more pressure."

She added: "Going to university is a very personal thing.

"It depends on what you're studying and what your career choices are."

Universities UK said research points that many graduates earn up to £10,000 more than non-graduates. Credit: PA

The Intergenerational Foundation, a non-party-political charity calling for a fairer student deal, told ITV News university may no longer meet student expectations of future pay and career prospects.

Liz Emerson, co-founder of the charity, said she recognises "a university degree may not give students the pay premium they envisage" and wants a change to the funding model.

She said the biggest issue for students deciding whether to go to university is how they will fund their living costs.

"The amount of money they can borrow for their living costs is means-tested, which means in many cases parents are expected to contribute to top-up a lower maintenance loan," she said.

"But, many parents are not contributing - some simply don't want to, and some cannot afford to do so."

What should be done to alleviate the pressure?

"We believe it is unfair that young people should have to pay such high fees and take out such large loans which they will have to pay back for the next 30 years," Ms Emerson said.

"University fees should be lowered to at least £7,500, interest rates should be much lower and closer to the government's own borrowing rate, and maintenance grants should be re-introduced to help the poorest students while at university.

"Universities and student unions should also call out private sector landlords who are exploiting students with outrageous on- and off-campus rents."