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Drop The Debt Donkey

May 3, 2008

lifestyle

I am a graduate with approximately £11,000 of student loan debt trailing behind me. This debt is the accumulation of student maintenance loans; they do not include tuition fees, which I did not have to pay.

Despite envying graduate friends who floated along on their parents’ earnings, without having to stress about working through the summer, I accept my debt as a graduate tax for the chance to study at university. I do not believe in the right to a free education – everything has to be funded, whether you do that through tax and the State, or privately through the individual.

The argument, however, is not as simple as to whether an education should be free, or if tuition fees should be introduced. It is more a case of whether the cost of that education has brought value, in terms of input to society, potential earning power and tax contribution, individual growth and career opportunities. If the state pays for the education, then a return on that investment is needed with regard to skills and talent in the public sector, which will support and stimulate a healthy society. If the individual pays for the education, then they want to know that they will be able to pay off their borrowing at the end of the course and that this investment will significantly improve career prospects and earning power. There will always be the reasoning that you can’t put a value on learning, that development of the mind is sufficiently rewarding, but I’m guessing that most graduates will also be concerned with the potential financial benefits of a degree.

Regarding the issue of student debt, I wonder whether we actually deserve it? Most students are aware that they could shop around for good current account and credit card deals, but how many actually do? I was a student for six years and have seen many students burn through their loans, credit balances and overdrafts a month into the semester, simply by frittering their hard-borrowed cash on the SU bar, shopping and club events. Gone are the days when students survived on a 9p can of baked beans; that only happens when all other funds are exhausted and desperation sets in.

Where I could, I bought the resources I needed as I avoided relying on university facilities. This was expensive, but it saved me from working in the library where someone had spilt coke on a machine or stuck a pen in the floppy disk drive, or poured milk over the tables. Food and drink was banned in the library, but it didn’t stop the zombies bringing in refreshments.

Most students rarely shop around for financial products, or organise their own finances, or manage a restricted budget. Many of them won’t vote in the General Election and most aren’t even interested in voting for their Student Council, which campaigns on their behalf. Most aspiring Bachelors are too short-sighted to see the consequences in graduation and graduates are either too busy with managing or avoiding the debt to care about what may happen to future waves of graduates.

Stop moaning about fees! They are almost certainly inevitable! The point is how much is a degree worth? If more young people flood into an increasingly over-crowded system, that saturates the market and reduces the quality of the product. If nobody challenges this, then the issue of student finance and tuition fees is not only a red herring, it’s a debt donkey.

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  • Anonymous

    Indeed, the quality of our education system is indeed a problem that is too little addressed. Most ‘Full time’ courses seem more to me like part -time courses spread across the year. Someone in charge seems to think it is a good idea to make courses run on longer and longer while making content less and less, exams easier, and coursework thresholds lower. I feel like I am at university to struggle with my finances through part-time work and socialising, while classes is something I occasionally have to go to. I’d be quite happy to pay my £1050 fee every year, if I knew that I was getting value for money. Not only do we have a limited number of classes, but mroe often than not, the lecturer is late, and students are always late causing us to miss out on our much needed teaching time. Classes are even cancelled, and despite rules on these classes being taken at another time, they are normally forgotten about. If we had more lectures crammed into one week then we might be less inclined to miss a day or two. You’ll be much further behind if you miss 10 lectures instead of 1 so theres an incentive!Oh, and as I am beginning to go off topic I would just like to say how unfair it is for some people to be paying fees and others not be. Why at 18 your income should be based on your parents finances I don’t know. If your parents are skint, great, off to uni you go with the government funding you, if your rich, Daddy will pay for it, but come from a middle income family and you have to make a serious decision. Either you or your parents are going to have to caugh up, so start looking for bar work as they aren’t going to manage it on top of their mortgage, council tax, utilities, national insurance, the list goes on. I’d still recommend university to anyone, however, make sure you started saving from your 14th birthday cos you may just about be able to afford your first semesters rent.

  • Anonymous

    I once had to pay a small contribution towards my tution fees, (oops, I had the audacity to have a small amount of savings)once they had been exhausted, I no longer had to pay. I’m glad too as I believe the quality of education was extremely poor. It wasn’t value for money; I have the usual student loan mountain -which I haven’t begun to pay off yet as I haven’t got a salary above the threashold- why bother with a degree? I might as well have got a job on the nightshift at Tesco. What’s wrong with that anyway? I think everyone should go and work at Tesco (or similar) and forget University/further education. You can then get some credit cards, run up some debts you can’t afford and bemoan the fact that you never went into further education and got the degree that would have made your earing potential skyrocket.My point is, is anything really value for money? Student loan, Credit card bills, Bank loans, they’re all the same. The grass is always greener…if, but and maybe…What really needs to be addressed is living within your means and how possible that is to do in today’s society. You don’t need to go to univeristy to learn that.

  • Anonymous

    Yes…but the point is that the government (Tiny Tory Blair) gives the impression that you’ll be better off if you go to university.And that’s not true anymore.We pay increasing amounts of money for an increasingly devalued product.AND…..the quality stinks. Bring in student appraisal of lecturers. Bring in legal cases against lecturers and universities for crap courses, wrong marks, overcrowded lecture theatres, stupid modules, incorrect instructions and double-booked rooms. Not to mention lecturers who rely too much on their research students…gggggrr When I think of the total lack of interest some of my lecturers expressed in their teaching and students’ learning – I do want my money back!AND some companies discriminate against graduates from certain universities. New university degrees do not always carry the same weight as their traditional counterparts.That also stinks.But none of that should mean an evaporation of fighting spirit. It’s a finance debate, not a philosophy one.

  • Anonymous

    Perfectly true, not everyone should be encouraged to go to university (oh how that Tesco nightshift beckons!), yes, it is devaluing qualifications. If everyone and their pet bunny has some crappy degree how else can an employer possibly hope to sift through the vast amount of job applicants except by pushing up the entry level for a post? This in turn makes it harder to get anywhere without silly pointless qualifications and so forces more people into low grade universities. In order to contribute to society you don’t need to be validated by a trip to uni. If more people felt like this it might make a difference and break the vicious cycle. But, let’s not blame it all on uni, it starts earlier than that. Bring back decent secondary education with quality exams to match. Lose the A**** with cherries on top and get back to A, B and C passes. Let some people fail, surely that is incentive enough to study harder? Have a second type of exam for people whose strengths lie in less academic areas and follow that up with some decent vocational quals. What’s wrong with a polytechnic anyway?But I thought this was meant to be about finance! Once again, I agree. Tuition fees are not the problem it’s lack of student grants that is. Why should I have to take out a student loan? Give me a GRANT. Why should I be penalised for my education by a graduate tax? Surely the fact that I’m (alegedly) earning more means that I’m paying more in tax, paying in full for my childrens education, paying more for the house I live in, paying more for my private health care…paying more, paying more, paying more? I don’t begrudge the fact that I pay more. I can afford to pay because I wasn’t bogged down in serious debt before I had even started. That’s right I’m “Daddy” who pays for everything (but you all want to be me don’t you?) Thanks for the grant, it really helped.

  • Anonymous

    I understand and agree that many of our nations students need to take better care of their finances. I read a blog the other day about an ex-student (granted they were american) who put off sorting out her finances whilst at college, thinking that everything would be all right and all her debts would be paid off within a year of getting a high paid graduate job, no matter how much debt she had built up. The job market in the US, as well as the UK, has changed though, and the number of graduates who go from college to serving fast food has increased, while the number going into high paid graduate jobs has plummeted. She has spent the last 8 years scrimping and saving, trying to just get back to nearing zero debt(not including mortgages). This picture is all to sadly represented across Britain as well. The idea of increasing the number of students and decreasing the financial help available to them, saddling them with crippling long-term debt before they even start working, is just plain stupid. Everyone is being forced into taking responsibility for their own money, whether they want to or not. It does seem that 16-24 years olds are leading the way in taking responsibility, a recent report from a financial website has recently said that only 18% of 16-24 year-olds forget to inform financial providers when they move house (compared with 40% of 25-34 year olds), and they topped the country’s best savers league, putting aside 9.25% of their income on average every month. Whether this report includes students is unclear. At the end of the day, it seems that all student’s who don’t get “daddy’s” help to bail them out are in for a rocky time after they leave college, and the situation appears to just be getting worse.The answer appears to be to find all the financial help you can, as soon as you can.You are never too young or old to get into financial trouble, complacency in no longer an option. I am just glad that I managed to leave at a time when I only owed a few thousand pound.

  • Anonymous

    Lay off Daddy, he pays for everything!