I’ve always been fascinated by factors that can affect a person’s mental well being. The interest drove my degree choices – before joining OpinionPanel I completed a Clinical Psychology degree and then a Master’s degree in Research Methods in Psychology.
The recent controversy around plans to increase undergraduate tuition fees made me consider the impact they might have on students’ mental health. It’s an area that I think hasn’t been given much attention.
A recent article in The Psychologist – the trade paper for the British Psychological Society (BPS) – illustrated how vulnerable students already are to poor mental health. Young adulthood is a particularly crucial time for emergent mental health difficulties and research suggests that undergraduate students have more symptoms of poor mental health than non-students of the same age. More specifically a relationship has been found between financial issues and both mental and physical health problems, with students who are contemplating dropping out of university due to financial issues being significantly more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol.
Of course, under the new tuition fee arrangements no money will change hands until graduates start earning decent salaries, so the debt will be far less burdensome than, say bank loans or credit card debt. Nevertheless the anxiety of the tuition fee debt will, I’m sure, really impact some young people. In raising tuition fees the government is trying to make a financial savings. However, my concern is that the savings will be diminished after the new mental health costs are factored in. More students may drop out of university, fail their degrees, become reliant on drugs and alcohol, suffer depression, enjoy worse physical health and require therapy. All of these can have huge associated costs for both society and the individual.
Often, when government financial support ends, unintended consequences kick in. My worry is that the consequences of higher tuition fees will end up manifesting in as mental health problems for the next generation of graduates; a serious concern as these are the same people we are relying on to get us out of the financial mess the previous generation got us into!