I was reading a story on the Guardian last night by Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford College in Oxfordshire.
He has quite grave concerns about students entering the workforce with large loans - some loans are around the $80,000 mark and that's for a standard degree. It mirrors what's happening here.
Many of our young graduates shoulder huge loans that they will pay off for some years, or head off overseas to pay off.
I had a student loan, many moons ago... and I went through the system when it was interest-bearing too. I was studying journalism and working in a bank, and pouring pints on Friday nights... but I don't think the cost-of-living was as high as it is now. It was a struggle then, but I think it's tougher now, much tougher.
Anyway Will Hutton's piece made me re-think the issue of student debt and what we load on to the shoulders of the next generation. He says we need to look at the long-term social implications of large student debt. He says, for example, It's putting people off marriage for many years, until they're mid or late 30s and then the birthrate falls too.
In the UK, just as is the case here, home ownership among the under 40s has absolutely plummeted.
He goes on to say that many people will emerge from university with a degree and will spend their entire life renting a house and trying to pay off their student loan... and they'll do that well into their 50s.
Of course, the idea is that we are trying to educate our youth to improve their prospects of employment, to improve their social mobility and other areas of their lives such as health outcomes. And it's essential to make tertiary education accessible and achievable for everyone, but when you consider the level of debt our students are shouldering, it begs the question whether the system is actually self-defeating.
Will Hutton says Britain is the process of creating the most stratified, least socially mobile and cruelly unfair society because of the way it is treating its young.
And he says the student loan system saves the government between 1 and 1.5 percent of GDP- but he says the end result is that they are enslaving a generation to debt, and what it cost is that to an economy on the long term?
He ends his piece by saying this issue is often politicised - it's often marginalised as an issue of the left. But he says it's much bigger than that.
I don't know what the answer is, but I think Will Hutton makes a very valid point on whether we need to re-think the long-term impact of student debt and whether, in fact, instead of improving social mobility, it may actually have the reserve effect.
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