Students Are Killing Themselves – Clearly, We Must Reverse The Expansion Of The Universities


We’ve news that the suicide rate among university students is now above that for the population in general. This is indeed a problem. From this report two things flow, firstly, that they are in fact measuring the right thing – a novelty for the new academia. Secondly, that given how bad this new academia is for those going through it we’ve got to shrink the new academia.

No, this is not to make light nor fun of either the tragedy of suicide nor the much greater effect upon those they leave behind. It is though to do what academe itself should be doing, which is to analyse the world and then posit how we might make it a better one:

Universities do have a suicide problem, researchers have said, as a study shows that the number of students taking their own lives has overtaken the general population for first time.

Research by the Hong Kong-based Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention found that the suicide rate among UK students had risen by 56 per cent in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, from from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 people.

The student suicide rate in 2016 was 9 per cent higher than in 2015 and 25 per cent higher than 2012, when it was 8.3.

ONS figures show that the average suicide rate among the general population of 15-19 year olds was 5.9, while the rate for 20-24 year-olds was 10.4.

Our first observation is that they are at least measuring the right thing. Not the student suicide rate as against the general population, nor just the number of suicides (as, say, people did with Foxconn and Apple) but the suicide rate for the correct age group. So, full marks there, some part of the new academia is actually measuring the right thing.

The second is to ponder, well, what is causing this? One is simply that if this expansion of the universities has led to such a rise then perhaps we should rethink the expansion? The very idea that 50% of the age cohort are suited to tertiary academic study is in itself ridiculous even if that’s what the current zeitgeist insists. Tertiary education perhaps but only if we use a very wide definition of “education,” to include such things as “learning on the job” and “growing up.”

But we can be and should be more accurate and detailed here. Yes, certainly, there will be some who shout that it’s having to take out a loan to buy this education which is causing the despair. But then the point and purpose of setting up the loan system is to get people to consider the economic benefit of gaining that education. If it’s worth more than the cost of getting it then sure, we want people to go to uni. If it’s worth less then we want them not to go.

Do note that value here isn’t purely the expansion in future earning power. That’s to measure value like an accountant, not an economist. To the economist value includes the personal satisfaction to the student, that heavenly joy in getting to grips with a set of ideas, the general increase in life satisfaction at having partaken at the fountain of knowledge. It’s only by making the costs of doing this apparent to the student doing the doing that the correct person to be making the decision is informed enough to make the decision.

Thus not grants but loans. Just to make clear those costs to be compared with those benefits. And the only person qualified to make the judgement is the person, the student, who bears the costs and receives the benefits.

So, to suicide – more are finding, after they’ve started, that the equation doesn’t work for them. The system is therefore out of kilter. It’s been true for at least a decade now that in accounting terms an arts degree for a man is a loser. That’s income forgone plus loan costs as against future earnings, the accounting measure not the economic. The economic will include the wonders of actually having studied French symbolist poetry and the opportunities to get laid at parties that ensue therefrom. But it’s obvious that for increasing numbers this deal doesn’t work.

Therefore we’ve got to change the deal, don’t we? No, that doesn’t mean that we want to reinstitute grants, for that would be only to disguise the truth and we can all handle the truth, can’t we? Instead we need to do one of two things. Either reduce the number going, somehow restrict it to only those who still benefit in that economic sense. The only method of which we’ve got is the one we’re using, leaving the students to make their own decision when fully appraised of costs and benefits.

The second being close down those departments which are obviously not adding any value. Great, so, that’s all grievance studies then, anything with critical in the title that isn’t about mass (no, mass, not Mass) and, of course, the entire elimination of the International Political Economy department at Islington Technical College. Actually, Islington Tech should probably go back to training plumbers*, one of the few pieces of tertiary education we have which definitely and definitively adds value even in that narrow accounting sense.

It’s even possible that this plan will only have a marginal effect upon the suicide rate among students but By God it’ll make the world a better place.

*If you haven’t, you must, read Wilt on Meat 1 and Meat 2