Most students will still be paying back loans from their university days in their 40s and 50s, and many will never clear the debt, research finds.
Almost three-quarters of graduates from England will have at least some of their loan written off, the study, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, says.
The trust says the 2012 student finance regime will leave people vulnerable at a time when family costs are at a peak.
Ministers said more students from less advantaged homes were taking up places.
The study, written by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), assessed the impact of the new student loan system for fees and maintenance, introduced in England from September 2012 to coincide with higher tuition costs of up to £9,000 a year.
The study – entitled Payback Time? – found that a typical student would now leave university with “much higher debts than before”, averaging more than £44,000.