GRADUATES might earn on average £400,000 more than their contemporaries without degrees during their working lives but becoming a student in the first place can be a costly business and young people face considerable debts.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned that grants will not be making a comeback which leaves students from poorer families struggling to make ends meet.

The National Union of Students claims that 40 per cent of their members have to take on some form of part-time work to help fund their degrees and estimates that 25 per cent of all people entering higher education this year will end up owing more than £10,000.

Under-graduates are currently allowed to borrow £3,905 per year from the Students Loan Company and £3,090 if they live at home.

Susanne Smith, aged 22, who graduated from the University of Central Lancashire last summer, owes the Students Loans Company £7,000 and also has a £1,000 overdraft.

The Public Relations and Marketing graduate, from Atherton, was one of the last group of students to receive a grant in her first year, but still had to work at a supermarket to make sure she had enough money.

She says: "The banks give out credit cards and overdrafts far too easily and because students are young and want to go out, they run up debts.

"As I was graduating I started to think about all the money I had borrowed and to worry about getting a job to pay it all off."

She adds: "I don't regret doing my degree but I think there must be ways to help kids from poorer backgrounds who are bright and want to go to university as it would be a shame if they were put off because of the cost."

James Edgington, aged 19, started his degree in Contemporary Theatre and Performance three weeks ago and is already bracing himself for the prospect of running up at least £4,000 in debts despite living at his father's house in Bradley Fold.

The former Bolton School pupil only considered attending universities that he could commute to as he feared the cost of staying in halls of residence.

But he is still notching-up £15 per day in travel costs as he has to catch a tram, train and bus to reach college in Crewe.

James has started working 16 hours a week at a hotel in Manchester to supplement his student loan and even though his father will be able to offer financial help, he does worry about the debts he will have to eventually clear.

He says: "Money was an issue when I was thinking about what I'd do.

"I was determined to come to university but didn't want to pay £1,200 per year to stay in halls of residence.

"A lot more sixth-formers are thinking about commuting to university and staying at their parents which is a shame."

Jenny Ryan, aged 20, has just started her second year of a degree in Law at Leeds University.

The former Thornleigh Salesian College pupil, who is from Horwich, expects to be £10,000 in debt to the Student Loan Company when she graduates, as well as owing her mother money, running up an overdraft and a credit card bill.

Jenny will face further debts as she also wants to continue her studies by attending bar college which will mean another £6,000 in tuition fees alone. She says: "I don't know how students who don't receive help from their parents manage.

"It's really tough and even if you budget, the whole idea of paying back so much money can be overwhelming.

"A lot of people in sixth form must be thinking it's just not worth going to university and will get a job instead."

Dean of Students at Bolton Institute, Sarah Riches, says anyone with money worries can visit the student centre or the advice unit at the students' union.

"There is lots of information available but one of the difficulties is that the finance system is so complex now and some students aren't well catered for. They have to juggle their studies with working part-time which can be challenging."

Bolton Community College also has a team of student advisers and counsellors who can help anyone struggling financially.

Classes are organised to start later in the morning and finish earlier to allow students to slot in part-time work.

Director of Learner Services, Dr Ava Lefton, says: "We make sure all prospective students know how much their courses will cost before they've enrolled so they don't find they've suddenly got to pay for a field course half way through. We work closely with Job Centre Plus and advertise any suitable vacancies to the students.

"There is a lot of financial support on hand for people who are struggling and we just need to make them aware of that help."