Student debt is affecting the UK workforce – change is needed

James Reed on the launch of a prize draw to wipe out £50,000 worth of student debt.

In 1999, Tony Blair set the goal of sending half of young adults to university by 2010. Last month – a full 20 years later – it was announced that the 50 per cent target had been met. What the ex-PM perhaps didn’t anticipate was the cost of university to students in 2019. With tuition fees now running at £9,250 per year, on top of maintenance loans that can total tens of thousands of pounds, the average student can begin working life with more than £50,000 worth of debt.

These daunting sums are the driving force behind’s launch of a prize draw to clear £50,000 of student debt. I was lucky enough not to be burdened with debt when I went to university. But working in recruitment has given me a unique insight into the effect that student debt is having on graduates when they start their careers. Debt is associated with anxiety and stress: research we carried out found that a quarter of graduates believe they will still be paying off their debt for 30 years.

Shackling the future UK workforce to this burden is not giving it the best start. Many recent graduates quickly realise that their degree was not good value for money and that they could have found another, cheaper route into their career. For many occupations, apprenticeships and vocational courses are a great alternative, allowing young adults the opportunity to learn and earn. Even though university is the right path for some, I would advise school leavers to look at the full array of options open to them.

Our purpose at REED is improving lives through work. We don’t have all the answers to solve the UK’s mounting student debt but we do understand that fundamental changes need to be made if graduates are to succeed when they start their working life.

As a commitment to our purpose, REED has announced the first prize draw of its kind: we will clear up to £50,000 of student debt for at least one lucky winner. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to change someone’s life for the better and support young people as they embark on their careers.

If you have an outstanding student loan, enter now for free at