Written by Guest Writer

This blog post has been written for us by an industry expert.

This guest blog post has been written by Lynne Condell MBE. Lynne has worked in higher education student support for over 30 years. She is currently a freelance trainer on all things student money related and also contributes to several national student finance stakeholder groups including chairing the SFE/SFW vulnerable student stakeholder group on behalf of the SLC. She is the co-author of the CPAG publication, Student Support and Benefits Handbook.

In 2013, Lynne was awarded an MBE for services to Higher Education.


Read any media article about students and money or make a quick search on the internet and you will find very similar information, (occasionally) written in a slightly different way. ‘Top tips for student budgeting’ usually heads up the search list with suggestions about buying own-brand foods. This tends to be closely followed by ‘student loans’ and/or the ‘pros and cons of various student bank accounts or railcards’.

While those that work in the student money sector will agree that these things are important, they don’t address what is really going on with students and money with 75+% of students worrying about money, according to research by Blackbullion and Save the Student.

Money and wellbeing

For at least the past decade we have quite rightly heard a lot in higher education about the importance of student wellbeing, student mental health and student self-care.  Institutions run as many sessions on these subjects as we can fit in throughout the year, reaching out to students as often as possible. We have trained our staff in mental health awareness, and we employ a host of wellbeing workers and student buddies and mentors.

In addition, institutions are required as part of their registration with the Office for Students to have a whole university approach to supporting student mental health. But what exactly is student wellbeing and where does money fit into this?   

The Oxford English Dictionary defines wellbeing as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. In addition, being comfortable is also about how in control you are or feel and how satisfied you are with your life. This suggests that financial wellbeing is about feeling you are in control financially (clearly not the same as being wealthy) and being comfortable with our money management and money choices.  

But how on earth do you get to be comfortable with your money when as a rule you don’t have enough? Can institutions help with this and can we reasonably separate student wellbeing from student financial health? Would using the same approach to support financial wellbeing that we use for mental health improve student success? While we don’t have the answers to these questions, looking at wellbeing holistically and taking a whole university approach to financial wellbeing can only be a positive step.

Furthermore, it is important to stress from the outset that the financial wellbeing of our students must be everyone’s responsibility and cannot be the sole responsibility of a small team of student money advisers. A whole university approach has got to be the way forward. 

First steps to success

The first step in a whole university approach must be about everyone in student-facing roles being comfortable talking to students about money.  However, in recent research by the Money and Pensions Service, it was revealed that 29 million adults in the UK don’t feel comfortable talking about money even though many of them are worried about their finances.

Around 71% of young adults (18 – 24 year olds) worry about money once a week and 67% of those who worry about money say it negatively impacts their mental health.  The top reasons for not talking about it were shame, not wanting to burden others and it causing stress and anxiety. Talking about money does appear to be the final taboo.  

Young people will make many transitions on their journey into adulthood but one of the biggest changes is the move from school to university or employment. It is natural to worry and be excited about the swift change from a very structured school routine to one where they make their own choices and possibly start to live independently but this can be very stressful.

It is really important they are given the opportunities to talk about things that are worrying and/or new to them. For most of them, this will be the first time they have managed their own money and so it goes without saying that they will need help and will make mistakes.

We do know many staff are hesitant to talk to students about money.  This could be because they are not that confident about money management themselves, have not had access to suitable training or resources or maybe because us money advisers have spent a lot of time over the past 20 or so years telling everyone that money advice is a regulated activity! But just like you don’t need to be a doctor to ask how someone is feeling, you don’t need to be a money adviser to ask about someone’s financial wellbeing. 

What is a budget?

Equally important to breaking the institutional silence about money is to actively and continuously encourage all students to work out their budget.  Take a step back and ask: do they know what a budget is and where to start with this?  Recent research shows that 1 in 10 students have never budgeted and 74% wish they had received better financial education.

Learning that money is a finite resource and when it is gone it’s gone is a strange concept to learn or teach. We can be forgiven for thinking that all adults (especially those in higher education) should understand this but the reality is very different. Talking about the importance of budgeting and signposting to appropriate tools, guidance and information both pre and post induction is essential.  

In addition to giving students the tools to budget, we also need to give them the motivation as providing one without identifying the other will not work. It may not be the most exciting topic to talk about now but helping them understand that if they want to go on holiday, go travelling or eat, these are the things they need to do. 

What next? 

The next steps will depend on your institution and in most cases will also take a bit more thought but a whole university approach could include:-

Training all student-facing staff from academics, careers advisers, counsellors, mental health workers; to be open to talking about money and able to make positive and appropriate referrals.  

Making sure the money conversations, activities and themes are long-lasting and embedded, for example ‘Money Mondays’ (other days are available) – have a day a week or month where all staff ask students about their money and wellbeing. This could be an opportunity to remind students what support is available across the institution and how to access it. 

Hardship fund real-time analysis – Use the information that institutions have via hardship funds to assess the financial wellbeing of their students. Applications to these funds are a real barometer of what is going on financially and otherwise within the institution. Rather than seeing this as a back-office admin task to be completed as quickly as possible, use this as a way of alerting the institution of emerging issues and trends.  

Ensuring student money advisers are appropriately trained (just like other professional support staff) – check that they are student-facing, accessible and visible. 

Whatever we decide to do, make sure it is embedded and not a one-off intervention. As with all things, repetition is the mother of learning.

Finally

It is vital we include students in the design and implementation of these plans.  Most financial capability initiatives tend to focus on telling people things. While we all agree students have lots to learn about money (and we can all come up with a list of topics), we should be including them in the design if we really want to succeed.


Sign up to our staff newsletter and be the first to get all new financial wellbeing resources, for you and your students, straight to your inbox.

Staff newsletter

Subscribe to get all the latest blogs, news & updates

image

By entering your email you agree to sign up to the Blackbullion staff newsletter and receive email communications from Blackbullion. We never spam! You can unsubscribe at any time. Your data will be handled as detailed in our Privacy Notice.

Ready to get started?

Understand how our platform works, get a sneak peek of our core product features, and learn how we can support your current systems and processes.

Request a demo

Download info pack

Get an overview of our platform and share the info pack with your colleagues and managers.

Download now

Got a question?

Let us know how we can help and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Get in touch