Wishing to quantify the effects of the student loan system on student wellbeing, ISO asked the Motivaction research agency to carry out a survey of 563 students who are getting degrees at Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences (hbo). One in two students surveyed said they were borrowing money from the Education Executive Agency (DUO). On average, these loans amounted to €450 per month.

Setting a high bar

According to the sample, the majority of the students surveyed experience greater pressure to perform and more frequent anxiety than students who are not borrowing money. The students with loans claimed to be extremely tired and emotionally exhausted. One in five said they feared they were headed for a burnout. These students were more likely than their counterparts without loans to feel that they had to graduate quickly so as to minimise their student loan debt. The students said the pressure to perform caused by their student loans was causing them to experience more mental health issues, such as fatigue, anxiety and depression.

“I often refrain from extracurricular activities because I fear falling behind in my studies and incurring a greater debt as a result” was one of the statements to which the students were asked to respond. One in two students with a loan said they could relate.


Nevertheless, all of the students surveyed said they were pretty satisfied with their lives in general, giving it an average score of 7.3 out of 10. Most students said they spent the greater part of their week feeling cheerful (79 per cent) and relaxed (77 per cent). Furthermore, a majority of them said that it was good that student loans existed, as some of them might not be able to get a degree without a loan.

According to ISO, the survey constituted the first nation-wide study of the relationship between student wellbeing and the newly introduced student loans. People have been asking for a while whether the loans are causing students to have mental health issues. ISO President Tom van den Brink drew the following conclusion: “Student loans affect students on an emotional level. Thanks to this study, we now know that. It is now up to the Minister to admit that student loans are one of the many factors that are causing students to experience pressure to perform and mental health issues.”

The Minister for Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, has expressed some doubt as to whether the new student loans are affecting student wellbeing. She has asked the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to conduct a study on the anxiety experienced by students. The results of that study are expected to be published this spring.