Written by Sean Maguinness

Marketing Executive

It can be challenging to engage students with personal finance when they first arrive on campus. But, as university drop-outs reach new highs and the economy continues to fluctuate, supporting students’ financial wellbeing has arguably never been so important for universities and colleges. 

Here are some thoughts from Abi Keay (Financial Support Manager at Keele University) and Kim Hackman (Student Engagement Coordinator at UWE Bristol’s Student Money Service) on ‘quick wins’ to engage students with financial education. 

Both shared lots of great ideas you can use to support your students’ financial wellbeing, in the first term and beyond. Including: 

  1. What one thing are you doing to support your students with their financial education? 
  2. Which teams are critical to collaborate with to support students’ financial wellbeing?
  3. How can social media be used to engage students with financial learning?  
  4. What can staff do to reassure students about housing and accommodation?
  5. Closing tips and tricks

What one thing are you doing to support your students with financial education?

Raise awareness of the financial support available

When students first set foot on campus, there are so many things they need to familiarise themselves with, whether it’s their subject timetable, knowing where to go on campus and everything involved with living independantly.

The Financial Support Team at Keele University is always striving to spread the word about the financial support and guidance available at each step of a student’s university journey. 

For Keele, one of the best ways to do this is to ensure there is good-quality, up-to-date information on the student service web pages. Students will turn to Google as the first port of call if they’re looking for an answer to a question, so ensuring the university’s Student Service webpage has the answers students need in an easily accessible format is essential.

Moving away from the language of ‘crisis’

Signposting students to relevant support and financial guidance is also a key focus at UWE. But further than that, it’s important for staff to think about how they communicate the economic challenges that students face. 

Now more than ever, students are being bombarded in every direction by the word ‘crisis’ – whether it’s in relation to the pandemic, the cost of living or housing. So, there’s a balance between making sure students are aware of and prepared for the reality of these things without the message becoming overly negative. 

Focusing too much on the ‘crisis’ aspect risks making university seem unattainable for students who are coming from less affluent backgrounds. Therefore, the team at UWE makes an extra effort to promote accessible and free events on campus during welcome weeks to ensure all students can feel included despite the economic challenges posed by the economy. And, of course, taking any and every opportunity to share information with students about the help and support available on campus is essential too.

Which teams are critical to collaborate with to support students’ financial wellbeing? 

Building connections with recruitment and outreach teams

Keele University has learnt first-hand the importance of trying to engage students with financial education before they arrive on campus. That’s why the Financial Support Team tries to work closely with the universities’ recruitment and outreach teams. 

This gives Keele a way to engage students with financial education early – as their admissions teams often find students arriving on campus with little to no financial capability or preparedness. Engaging them with financial education ahead of time means they’re more equipped to handle the financial challenges of university life when they arrive. 

Financial webinars and workshops aimed at students

UWE’s Student Money Service also works closely with their Recruitment Team, which has brought a lot of benefits to their prospective students’ engagement with financial learning. In doing so, they’ve seen an increase in attendance at money-management webinars. For instance, UWE held a ‘Budgeting and Money Prep’ webinar for applicants in mid-August time that managed to get a total of 400 applicants in attendance. 

Meanwhile at Keele University, staff have previously seen a massive drop-off in webinar engagement once students have arrived on campus. The drop-off has been so dramatic that they now treat applicants almost as a different cohort of students when planning financial workshops and events, as they tend to be much more receptive.

Engaging with the ‘Global Team’

While UWE tends to see their UK students lose interest in webinars to do with money management when they arrive at university, they do have a lot of international students still showing interest late into the term. 

To capitalise on this, UWE’s Student Money Service also looks to work closely with their Global Team – so that they can create webinars and workshops about finance aimed at international students who may be facing specific problems as they adjust to differing costs in the UK to their home country. Targeted workshops can also be a good method to reach students who need specific financial support. For example, sessions on how to manage benefits or how to use a Childcare Grant (CCG).

Taking the opportunity to talk money at times when students are naturally interacting with staff

UWE’s Student Money Service is always looking for opportunities to reach students with financial information, and sometimes the best opportunity is at times where students are naturally engaging with staff already. 

These include: 

  • At face-to-face events: Whether it’s during a welcome week, freshers’ fairs or admissions, there are lots of opportunities to get involved in these events and talk to students about money. Perhaps using some of these icebreakers to get the conversation going.

During the funding application process: Another time when students are already interacting with staff is during the application process for support funds. Where relevant, UWE blends the provision of extra money for eligible students with financial education by asking the student to complete the Budgeting 101 pathway on the Blackbullion platform.

Not yet a Blackbullion partner? Find out more about our platform here.

How can social media be used to engage students with financial learning? 

Instagram takeovers

Social media is a great way to proactively engage students in the places they spend time online, rather than waiting for them to approach Student Services themselves. The Student Money Service at UWE has its own Instagram account to focus on all things student money. 

In addition to this, the team do ‘Instagram Takeovers’ of the university’s main Instagram account as a way to open the dialogue with students, as well as spreading awareness of their department and the support they offer. Their latest takeover received over 3,500 views. 

Not enough content?

Initially, when UWE’s Student Money Service requested their own department’s Instagram account, there were concerns they wouldn’t be able to generate enough content to post regularly on it. But in reality, the team has found the opposite to be true – as almost everything at university can be related back to money! 

Here are a few content tips and suggestions of things that are easy to implement as social media posts: 

  • Food recipes: This can be as simple as photographing a meal and posting a recipe alongside it, so students have a quick method to cook at home and save money.
  • Shout-outs to other departments: When it comes to engaging students with financial education, both UWE and Keele University have found collaboration across departments to be key. To help build these relationships, UWE use their social media accounts to give shout-outs to different teams across campus so students are aware of where to go for all types of information and support. 
  • Sharing Blackbullion content: Another quick social media win is simply reposting some of Blackbullion’s social media content – whether this be financial wellbeing blogs for students or bite-size economy updates. We’re always working to keep our socials up-to-date with the latest information on Linkedin, Instagram, TikTok and X

Using socials to host open conversations with students about money

Keele University also uses Instagram to engage students with financial education. They’ve found ‘Q&A boxes’ to be particularly successful as part of their monthly takeovers of the main university account, with three main benefits: 

  1. Creating an open dialogue about money with students: the Q&A box provides a space for staff and students to speak openly about money. 
  2. Giving students who need specific support the opportunity to reach out: Whenever students submit a question or answer, Keele’s staff read it before choosing whether to publish it to their ‘Instagram Story’ for others to read as well. This gives staff control to determine whether what a student has submitted is too private to be posted publicly or is perhaps a cry for help. If so, staff can message the student privately instead to offer them support. 
  3. Students can watch and learn from the conversation: Even if students choose not to share a submission themselves, they can still view the questions and answers that are made public, furthering their understanding of money at university and gaining a wider knowledge of where to go for support.

What can staff do to reassure students about housing and accommodation?

“Don’t rush to rent”

Over the past five to six years, Keele University has seen a lot more private accommodation built in the local area. As a result, they’ve seen as increase in students who are anxious about finding a place to live applying for private accommodation – since applications open much earlier than those for on-campus accommodation. However, this leads to these students living in much more expensive accommodation. 

To help ease students’ worry around being unable to secure accommodation, Keele’s Student Union has worked on a “Don’t rush to rent” campaign. The aim of which is to encourage students not to rush into rental contracts and let them know that there is a surplus of university rental accommodation available every year, so there’s no need to panic-apply for more costly private accommodation.

Get information on housing costs to students as early as possible

Similarly in Bristol, UWE students have the options of cheaper, on-campus accommodation and more pricey off-campus accommodation. 

UWE’s Student Service often hears from students that they applied for the cheaper on-campus accommodation, only to be told there is no availability as it’s in shorter supply. So were forced to take on the more expensive private option. 

So that students are aware of this possibility and can plan around it, UWE communicates the cost of all potential accommodation options before students arrive for their first year. In the event that the student’s loan is not going to be enough to cover the cost of their accommodation, they direct them towards the university’s hardship fund. 

After first year, students at UWE face housing issues again when they have to find private rental accommodation in the Bristol area, which is very competitive and expensive. Again, to help get this message to students early and prepare them for the reality of housing costs in the area, UWE has moved their accommodation fair earlier in the year, to November.

Closing tips and tricks

Find ways to make your information stand out

Students are inundated with information and frequently given freebies – especially during welcome weeks! 

The team at Keele University are always mindful of this, so when they have an important message to support their students’ financial wellbeing, they make sure that any materials include a strong call to action. Such as ‘visit the student services website’. Small tweaks like adding a QR code to anything handed out to students can help too. 

This way, there’s something actionable for the student to do immediately and the message doesn’t get drowned out by other noise. 

Always keep the student in mind

UWE reiterated the importance of keeping students front of mind when thinking about where best to try and engage them with financial learning. 

So whether it’s making sure information is made digestible on a student service webpage or deciding what to post on social media, ‘meeting students where they are’ is essential to get across the information they need to know.

Students listen to students!

Students listen to other students and tend to be more receptive to things that come from their peers. 

So, whether it be on the Student Union website or in an Instagram Story, it’s always a great idea to get students involved. Provide a platform for students to share their experiences with one another to get them engaged with their financial wellbeing and onboard with financial learning.

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