In early January, the National Student Money Survey was published, examining the true cost of being a student, and what this means for all areas of life at university.
Student debt is a persistent hot topic in political spheres. Yet, even as the potential of tuition fees being cut is once again on the cards, there is no denying that the financial cost of being a student continues to rise. The outcomes of this recent survey highlight the pervasive consequences of financial struggles for students, with the results ranging from the expected to the surprising – and the downright concerning.
The mental health of the student population continues to attract attention as an issue which must be addressed, with the number of students disclosing mental health conditions increasing by fivefold over ten years.
Amongst other worries, such as exam stress and anxiety, it appears that the financial burden of attending university is contributing to deteriorating mental health amongst students. Half of the 2,300 students surveyed said that worrying about money directly impacts their mental health. And with a further 61% saying their diet suffered, and 42% saying relationships suffered, as a result of financial concerns, it is evident that there are many other reasons why student mental health might suffer indirectly.
In line with this, stretched funds contribute to a feeling of isolation. Whilst we are all now very aware of the prevalence of loneliness in older generations, little thought seems to be given to lonely students, and the difficulties they face. Comments on the National Student Money Survey underline that young people often experience loneliness, as a result of not being able to afford social activities: “I ended up feeling really isolated from my new friends because I never had any money to go out and do the things every fresher does.”
Is it fair?
The Student Loans Company has devised a supposedly effective and transparent system to offer maintenance loans, yet 57% of students still think student finance is unfair. Undoubtedly, this stems from the huge shortfalls in maintenance loans – with them failing to meet the costs of living, on average, by £221 per month.
Somehow, this deficiency must be made up, and students are forced to turn to a variety of inventive ways to make money. Inevitably, however, a vast proportion of students lean on their parents, with almost three-quarters relying on parental financial help to ensure they can meet their termly living expenses. Of course, this only exacerbates social divides in higher education, with a significant disparity in how much different families can support their children at university.
The question of fairness seems to extend to the image of a typical student: the stereotype of students as lazy undoubtedly still prevails. But the almost impossible stretching of finances has led some students to counter that they “feel the older generation don’t really appreciate how hard it is to get by as a student”.
For many current students, looking to the future does not paint a brighter picture. With half of all students not fully understanding the terms of their loan, and three in five worrying about loan repayments, many students are uncertain as to how exactly they will pay off their ever-increasing student debts. This is made more concerning by the fact that just over half of all students are not confident of finding work after graduation – a damning reflection on both the graduate job market and students’ sense of their own worth.
This report is eye-opening in the ways it draws attention to how extensive financial insecurity is for many students. It is something which students are clearly taking very seriously, often to the detriment of their mental and physical wellbeing. Clearly, greater levels of financial education are needed to help students navigate the student loan system, as well as to help them deal with the financial pressures placed on them.
Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/@bradneathery