Student debt could be bad for your health. Specifically, for your mental health. There has been limited research into the impacts of accumulating debt as a student or starting your working life with the millstone of debt around your neck. But as awareness of mental health in society grows, the mental health of students, burdened with massive debts is something that some are beginning to take a closer look at.
The data that does exist is not reassuring. The trebling of annual tuition fees to £9,000 five years ago coincided with a 28% increase in students seeking counselling at Russell Group universities. According to Mind, the mental health charity, tuition fees and student loan debt were major contributors to this steep rise in students seeking help for mental health issues. And they consider that financial stress is clearly linked to anxiety and depression.
Adding further to student's anxiety is the fact that many struggle to get enough money to pay their way through university, especially as rent in student properties continues to outstrip the loans available. Many students work in addition to their studies so they can cover the costs, but working 30 hours a week on top of a full-time degree can never be beneficial to students' learning or ultimate grade; neither can it be conducive to good mental health.
Other research from the University of Carolina and University of California found that those young people who incurred higher debts reported higher levels of depressive symptoms - even when adjustments for parental wealth, their childhood socioeconomic status and other factors had been taken into account. While debt can be a persistent source of anxiety, some studies have found that there are also physical impacts for young people too, such as higher blood pressure.
We often hear justifications made for our current funding system for higher education: 'outstanding debt will be cancelled after 30 years'; 'you only begin to repay once you pass the threshold of earning over £21,000'; and 'it won't affect your ability to buy a home or start a family'. These platitudes fail to acknowledge the extent to which financial stress contributes to anxiety and depression.
The Green Party believes education should be free because of the benefits it brings, both to the individuals who receive it and to the wider society in which they live, work and contribute. It is for this reason we want to abolish tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants. This is an expensive policy, but the benefits of freeing up a whole generation from debt at the start of their working lives is immense.
This is not a unique direction of travel - there are many countries who recognise the benefits that education brings to their society and so ensure that it is paid for through taxation. Many of these are our neighbours in Europe, and New York state has introduced legislation that will enable students to study for free where family income is below a certain level.
Because education is a public good and the whole of society benefits from a more educated workforce, Greens believe we should fund higher education in a collective manner from taxes. Businesses locating in the UK benefit from an educated workforce so it is only right that they contribute towards higher education. We believe a business education tax for the very largest companies would be one way to provide the funds needed to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants.
Viewing our young people as a force for good; as future contributors to society and people to be invested in, will not only free them from debt slavery; such positive affirmation could provide a massive boost to their mental health.