Calculating the real cost of my degree


University in the UK is infamously expensive.

According to a 2020 government report, the average student loan debt for students graduating in 2019 was £40,000. During a student mental health crisis and scant access to resources for those with mental health problems, socio-economic privilege at university could become even more salient. Students who can afford to by-pass long waiting lists, limited treatment options and poor infrastructural support for student medical needs can find themselves receiving help where others cannot. Between 2007 and 2018, Universities UK reported a fivefold increase in the number of students disclosing mental health conditions. The same report stated that “students with mental health problems are more likely to experience disruption to their education through taking time off, attempting to continue studies without the support they need, or dropping out altogether.”

I graduated with a History degree from Durham University in October 2020, that is, four months late. Without access to private therapy, I would not have graduated at all. In this article, I reflect on how the growing student mental health crisis, and issues of socio-economic privilege converged to characterise my university experience by calculating what I believe to be the real financial cost of my degree. I will calculate the cost of goods and services that I believe directly contributed to me passing my degree, whether it was resources for an essay, or mental health treatment and coping strategies that allowed me to remain at the University. Similarly, I will only be calculating goods and services that were paid for with money. Calculating the value of emotional support, cultural factors and elements of chance that were also at play during my time at Durham are beyond the scope of this article.

1. Tuition

Year 1£9,250
Year 2£9,250
Year 3£9,250

2. Accommodation

Accommodation Fees/RentCost
Year 1£7,453
Year 2£6,601.32
Year 3£5,772

3. Books and Resources

In theory, all of the books and resources you need for your degree should be available free of cost at the University. Yet, there were three main situations in which I was without access to the resources that I needed. Firstly, when a book I needed was checked out from the library, and it would not be returned in time for my assignment. Secondly, when the library did not have access to the books and archives that I needed for my niche dissertation topic. Thirdly, when Covid-19 hit, the library shut, leaving me unable to access the libraries physical books.

Books and Resources Cost
Archive Access£78.60
Others (DVDs ect.)£27.94

4. Train Tickets

At University, my pre-existing anxiety condition worsened, and I developed depression. I was on the brink of dropping out. This led to very regular trips home to help me cope. I am certain that without doing this, I would not have remained at the University.

Train TicketsCost
8 Train Tickets£276.60

5. GP Green Forms

These forms allow patients to request a private medical report from a GP, detailing something like a mental health diagnosis. These are often used as medical evidence that must be submitted to the University in order to fulfil procedures that are required to gain exam concessions, submit a Serious Adverse Circumstances Form and more.

Green FormCost
Green Form 2018£50
Green Form 2020 (1)£50
Green Form 2020 (2)£50
Total £150

6. Headspace Subscription

For me, guided meditation was crucial to emotional stability and avoiding frequent breakdowns. I used Headspace with a student discount. A regular subscription costs fifty pounds per year.

Headspace SubscriptionCost
Year 1£9.99
Year 2£9.99
Year 3£9.99

7. Therapy

The University does offer free counselling services for students. However with a waiting list for both university and NHS therapy, I found myself needing to pay for a private therapist in order to see somebody urgently. Furthermore, due to a lack of procedure in place at GP surgeries for the millions of students who spend significant portions of time at two locations, (at university and in their hometowns) it can be difficult for patients to be referred to mental health services.

25 Weeks Therapy£890

8. Medication

Many people living with anxiety and depression will be prescribed medication. 1 box, lasting twenty-eight days, costs £9.15, unless you are exempt from charges.

1 box£9.15

Grand Total: £49,290.85

My calculations cannot serve as an objective and comprehensive of all of the infinite factors at play that characterised my university experience. Indeed, there is no way of neatly quantifying all of the forces informing a life experience. However, my crude calculations provide a number, something to latch onto, that encompasses the three main areas of commentary that I hope this article illuminates. Firstly, the continuing salience of socio-economic privilege at university. Secondly, how this intersected with my part in the growing student mental health crisis. Finally, how this can come to cost students financially, in addition to staggering tuition fees.

The devastating impact of Covid-19 on mental health makes these issues even more pressing. Even if a student has the means to access private medical services, no student should ever be forced to pay for mental health treatment.

Illustration by Amy Swain. Pills photo: Wakana Sasaki via Wikimedia Commons. Matriculation photo: Author’s own.

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