Higher education: it’s a place to flourish, to acquire essential life skills, and to attain specialised knowledge for one’s career. Over 592,000 people applied to study at UK universities in 2015 as students from across the globe submitted applications in the hope of receiving a place at a coveted British institution.
Unfortunately, Great Britain isn’t just known for its prestigious institutions. It has also gained international attention because of student-led protests, the rise in tuition fees, and - most significantly - having now become the nation with the greatest amount of student debt among English-speaking countries. What an honour.
Suicides among students have increased to their highest level since 2007, according to recent ONS statistics, and money worries are said to be a contributing factor. According to the Sutton Trust, the average student debt for those graduating last year was £44,500. Considering the implications of a globalised economy, the difficulties of attaining a graduate job and the housing crisis, it seems future generations will be the ones paying of Mummy and Daddy’s student debt. But, is there an answer to help reverse some of these effects? Maybe.
Put simply, students could potentially benefit from financial literacy lessons. Universities need to include money management in all courses, regardless of subject. Whether you’re studying for a degree in fashion or a PhD in the cultural significance of late 20th century Italian films, an understanding of financial matters is key to career, and life, success.
The Government needs to change its approach on how it prepares the next generation for life in the world’s fifth largest economy, where the gap between the rich and poor is forever growing. From articulating the meaning of bank terminology to providing pupils with an understanding of how to invest their money across a variety of easy-to-use assets, students need a more thorough comprehension of money. Seriously.
In 2014, the Government updated the National Curriculum programme to include financial literacy lessons for those in secondary school, making it compulsory for local authority-governed schools to teach pupils money management during maths and citizenship lessons. MyBnk, an award-winning charity specialising in teaching young people how to manage their money, described the curriculum revision as a “huge achievement.”
But, what about young adults? Where’s their understanding of money going to come from? Will it be in the form of high-interest payday loans - or when their houses are repossessed? Simon Crowther recently gained media attention after sharing his open letter to his MP, explaining how the interest on his student loan had increased by £1,800 in the year since he left university, bringing his total debt to a staggering £41,976.
Crowther says in the letter: “I feel we have been mis-sold the loan.” Crowther is just one student among thousands to feel the same. However, had he been provided with an understanding of financial issues, perhaps he wouldn’t have had to pen his letter.
It seems there’s a societal expectation that students just know how to budget their money, as if they learned it in their own time, without the use of a much-needed crash course. And it’s not just students who believe they would benefit from financial literacy lessons. Former City trader, Michael Jarman, explained how a lack of financial knowledge is even affecting students’ understanding of the political sphere.
Jarman said: “It should 100 per cent be compulsory. Consider the Brexit debate and the state of the economy: students don’t understand the ramifications of a potential Brexit, as many people don’t understand finance unless they study for a degree. Finance affects everything; house prices, interest rates, inflation, even how much money you have to spend on holiday after converting your money. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of understanding and it is, without a doubt, affecting students.”
So, what’s going to be done? Is the Government going to continue expecting students to understand complex terminology and macroeconomic data naturally? Or does Great Britain’s higher education curriculum need a well-overdue update? It’s a rhetorical question. It’s the latter.