False alarm: why student debt is nothing to stress over
Mo’ money? No problem
If you Google 'tuition fees' or 'student debt', the voices of doom come thick and fast. £50,000. £60,000. Soaring interest rates. Debt vortexes. Loan mountains. The language of the current spate of articles on student debt is pretty scary – but should we actually be scared?
If 'we' is the government, then, yes, maybe the current state of student finance should be causing – if not terror – at least a touch of mild indigestion. But if 'we' is the students, then your stress is probably better expended elsewhere.
There's a reason that the particular students interviewed about their astronomical debts – like Grace and Vic – seem pretty nonchalant about it, to be honest: lots of students aren't really that stressed about the mountains of owed money they're supposedly being crushed under or the whirlpools that are supposedly raging under their feet, and that's not because of detached naivete.
It's because 'debt' is a misleading way to refer to student loans. The reality much more resembles a grad tax; there's no red letters involved, there's no scrapping together pennies to pay the minimum each month or bailiffs carting off your antique bookends. It just gets automatically deducted from your pay (if that pay is over £21,000, that is). And 75% of students will ultimately never repay the full amount of their debt. That's a government and SLC headache, since there's a gap that needs to be bridged, but it's not a student problem.
Plus, the chance that the degree isn't going to pay for itself is pretty slim: American universities charge a hell of a lot more than UK universities (although the per-student average pay is slightly lower because of a more comprehensive grant/scholarship system) and their degrees are still 'worth it', despite the extortionate price tags of anywhere between £15-50,000 a year. Here's author and Youtuber John Green explaining succinctly how American college degrees usually pay for themselves.
The fact is, a lot of these media outlets aren't listening to us – they're using our supposed unease and our steep and craggy Debt Mountains to attack those who have created this system.
But this scaremongering may have the actual real-life consequence of putting people off university, particularly people from underprivileged backgrounds that may not have the right information about this; or, alternately, it may encourage parents to try and pay their children's loans upfront (which will likely put them far more out of pocket than if they just followed the current system). Is it worth having that negative outcome just to feel a bit outraged about something? I mean, look at the state of the world. We have enough to be legitimately outraged about.
There are other things which are probably more worth getting anxious about, as a student right at this given time. What about that one-night-stand you had with someone in your college, which has meant that you'll have to avoid them at brunch for the rest of the year? That essay deadline that you've been putting off, and you've now only got three hours till it's due?
So, don't let the thought of student debt get you stressed out – it's just not worth it.