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The real cost of student debt

I recently graduated from university and began full time employment in the software industry. The discussion over the rise in tuition fees that has taken place in the UK and the general situation of having just finished a degree has got me thinking about attending university and its financial viability.

My own opinion is rapidly heading towards the conclusion that university at the very least does not offer a majority of people any kind of financial gain on balance. It would seem to me that for most people the only real ‘career-wise’ benefit of getting a degree is to be found in the opening of a few extra doors in terms of career progression over the lifetime of the graduate. However this is dependent upon the perceived quality of the the degree and university in question.

The real debt students face is not simply due to the tuition fees they must pay back, but includes the extra cost of living supplemented for most students by the maintenance loan available. This loan provides only a fraction of the amount of money necessary to survive a very frugal lifestyle in student accommodation with current food and service prices, and the debt will never be underwritten. Additionally there is the non monetary costs of the time and efforts invested in studying, which for a decent degree I would argue are often greater than the time and effort required in most entry level jobs.

Of course even though university doesn’t offer the guarantee of overall monetary gain, it does offer much more besides this in terms of life experience, intellectual stimulation, and an opportunity to expand one’s social horizons.

I decided to undertake my degree after a false-start at another university followed by a period of working in a ‘proper’ job. This helped me to appreciate more about what attending university can offer. When I look back on my student days, I can honestly say it was extremely worthwhile even if it hadn’t given me any advantage in terms of earning power and employability. But that was largely due to people met and experiences had that money can’t buy.

In my mind the question to ask about rising tuition fees is not will it offer more earning power to future graduates, but what is the money really being spent wasted on?

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