Student financial wellbeing is complex and rapidly evolving. Recent reports that the government plans to lower the income threshold at which graduates start repaying student loans have only added confusion to what has been a chaotic 18 months for many students.
What has become clear, despite all the uncertainty, is that we are in a financially defining period – one in which students have developed new habits and behaviours when it comes to managing their money.
For universities and colleges, this means an opportunity to understand how student behaviours are shifting. And with it, how resources and support can be directed to ensure a holistic approach to student financial wellbeing, a focus of great importance given the critical impact of financial wellbeing on mental health, the education experience and student outcomes.
As always, one of the most powerful ways to do this is by listening to students themselves; so here are 3 key areas of student financial wellbeing, identified by surveying our student community.
1. Students’ financial attitudes and values
In the same way that students have proven themselves throughout the pandemic as resilient and willing to adapt by getting used to new ways of learning and socialising, students’ attitudes and values when it comes to personal finance have also shifted.
What’s emerged is that an increasing number of students have turned to less traditional, digital ways to get money. There have been substantial upticks in a range of higher risk financial behaviour such as buying cryptocurrency and short-term trading and investing, for example.
One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that finances are still playing a big part in students’ decisions to study and continue to study at university or college – with 81% of our student community confirming this is the case.
These are just two of the topics explored in the first of three reports about student financial wellbeing, which shares insights from students’ responses to four questions:
- Are you currently working?
- Did/do finances play a part in your decision to study/continue to study?
- If you needed some extra cash, which of the following would you consider?
- What’s your favourite app or tool that helps you manage your money?
2. The financial wellbeing support students need
At such a crucial stage of life, universities have a huge role to play in supporting students’ financial wellbeing. For most young people, university is the first time they’ll experience being financially independent or given large sums of money, which can be overwhelming.
The pandemic has amplified pre-existing financial challenges for students. With many unable to rely on supplemented income from parent(s)/guardian(s) or traditional methods of making money during the lockdowns (like part-time work in the entertainment and hospitality industries), many students are now left with debt or dealing with the fallout from trying to make money from activities that carry financial risk.
It’s no exaggeration to say that financial wellbeing support from institutions has never been as important as it is right now.
My university has a dedicated department for financial student aid. This team is amazing when it comes to finance queries and they also hold term workshops to spread financial knowledge that anybody can attend. I’ve attended them and found them tremendously helpful and eye-opening.
But how can universities and colleges best support students? What financial wellbeing support do students say they need from their place of study?
The second report in our 3-part series about student financial wellbeing seeks to provide staff with actionable insights in response to these questions by sharing students’ thoughts on:
- The successes of universities’ financial wellbeing support offerings
- Suggestions for improvement
- The financial topics they feel they need more info on and support with
3. Students’ financial habits
Just as students’ financial attitudes and values have changed over the past 18 months, so too have their financial habits – both for good and not so good.
When students were asked for detail on their recent ‘money mistakes’, a large proportion of answers referenced newer, digital ways of trying to make or manage money. For example, a number of students admitted that they are struggling to keep up with their Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) repayments – an industry that is growing exponentially, with some of the big-name challenger banks such as Monzo and Curve now entering the space, too.
As with many financial activities, BNPL services are not inherently bad, but what is worrying for support staff is that many students don’t fully understand what they’re getting into before using them. There are a number of financial risks associated with using BNPL, including falling behind on repayments and the potential impact on credit score. Read more ‘money confessions’ from students here.
On the flip side, students were keen to reveal how their financial habits have changed for the better. Faced with financial challenges and hardship, exacerbated by the pandemic, students have sought to improve their financial literacy and navigate towards a more empowered financial future. It’s great to see that students are working hard to take care of ‘financial fundamentals’ – the key areas where students feel they have developed a good financial habit over the past year are:
- Cutting out unnecessary spending
I’ve been tracking my spending better and understanding how lockdown has affected my spending.
Read the third and final report in the series for more detail about how students’ financial habits have shifted, including insights on:
- The extent to which students feel they’ve made a ‘money mistake’ over the past year
- The new, good financial habits students say they have developed
- Key themes when it comes to students’ financial mistakes and good habits
Further resources for university and college support staff
- Interested in learning more about the impact of financial wellbeing on student mental health? Get your copy of the Money and mental health whitepaper.
- Find out more about the financial risks students are faced with right now and how support staff can help in this blog.
- Hear more from students about the financial wellbeing support they need, including what they seek, how they seek it and when in the whitepaper: Students’ thoughts on financial support from universities and colleges.
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