This guest blog post has been written by Dr Dominique Thompson. Dom is an award-winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students. She was named Bristol Healthcare Professional of the Year in 2017.
Financial education should be as much a part of university life as learning about consent and mental health, alongside academic studies. Money is an integral part of students’ daily lives, and it impacts everything they do; where they live, what they eat (if they can afford to eat), what activities they can enjoy, whether they can travel to and from university or placements, and how well they focus on their studies.
The findings of Blackbullion’s second annual report ‘Student Money & Wellbeing 2022’ are therefore essential reading for anyone who works with students. This is particularly true at a time when we have seen reports of students needing to use food banks, especially international students during the pandemic. It is also of no surprise to read that of the 1,000 students surveyed about money and stress by Blackbullion, the rising cost of living features prominently alongside the impact of money worries on student wellbeing.
I remember as a university GP, being told by some students that they would have to choose between buying food or paying for prescriptions, or that they could not afford to travel to hospital or other health appointments. It seems that students’ financial woes have worsened.
The report’s findings do not make for happy reading, but there are actions that all Higher Education Institutions could take to tackle some of the biggest financial issues affecting students.
When a student is stressed about money (and many of them are), they will struggle with multiple other aspects of their lives. The report finds that on average students are short of almost £400 per month, in terms of the ‘funding needed to feel confident they will be able to complete their degree’ (not including tuition fees). This worrying figure is also 20% more than in 2021.
Being £400 a month short will impact students’ ability to pay rent, buy food, pay for medication, travel to classes or placements, wash their clothes and bedlinen, purchase course-related equipment or books, and pursue their non-academic interests.
The report states that 75% of students worry about money and 57% of those say that money worries negatively impact their mental health, including causing anxiety and depression. Of course, it’s not just psychological stress that a lack of funds leads to: 34% of those who worry about money also said that their physical health was impacted negatively.
Poor sleep, reduced paid-for physical activities (gyms/ swimming/ sports clubs), a diet of cheap, unhealthy food and time spent trying to earn money in sedentary roles will all affect physical health. This is in addition to the physical impacts of stress itself, like hair loss and heart palpitations. Add to that the inability to pay for medication, dental care or an optician and the situation for students looks fairly dire.
However, universities can help.
How universities can make a difference
Universities have a clear role in supporting students not just to achieve their academic potential (which they may not manage if they are stressed about finances) but also to help them to learn the life skills they need to be ready for the workplace and life beyond.
There are several steps universities could consider to improve their students’ financial health post-university, post-pandemic, and throughout their careers, as well as whilst they are studying.
Some university-provided interventions that might help all students include:
- Mental health support, careers advice and guidance
- Accessible financial education
- Direct financial hardship support
- Providing paid work on campus
- Raising awareness about safe ways to earn money as a student
As students emerge from a pandemic, count the cost of Brexit, and look towards a somewhat uncertain future in terms of a possible recession, cost of living worries and the job marketplace, it has never been more important to make sure that this vital cohort’s concerns are acknowledged, addressed and supported as part of their whole university experience.
We owe it to them.
If you have questions for Dom, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @drdomthompson, and find her on LinkedIn and Facebook. Dom’s TEDx talks, her #DomIn60seconds advice videos, and other interviews are available on YouTube. You can also reach her via Buzz Consulting, specialising in young people’s mental health and wellbeing.