When is a Debt not a Debt? Individual Constructions of the Meaning of Debt in a Student Sample
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Student debt is currently a relevant topic in the UK, especially in light of recent changes to the cost of university tuition. There have been many quantitative studies that have examined the link between student debt and factors such as; poor prioritisation, debt tolerance and well-being (Davies & Lea, 1995; Callender & Jackson, 2005; Cooke et al, 2006). However, the present study considers debt from the student’s perspective using qualitative methods. In particular it looked at how students use language to construct a meaning of debt, and how some accounts neglect to consider some forms of owing money as debt. Twenty students from the University of Edinburgh took part in semi-structured interviews discussing their debt. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using Discursive Psychology approach which allowed three important themes to be identified. Firstly, students dismissed their student loans as a debt, constructing them instead as a necessity. Secondly, some students made social comparisons to normalise the debt they were in. Finally, the students constructed their own type of debt as preferable compared to other types. The present findings related closely with the existing literature and suggested ways in which measurements of debt attitudes could be improved. The study found that not all debts are treated equally and that some debts, particularly student loans, are not considered to be debt at all. This finding has important implications for student services when offering financial and debt advice to students.