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.
The latest research from Blackbullion gives us insight into the money worries of over 1,000 students during the height of the pandemic and, more importantly, how these concerns subsequently impact their wellbeing.
While some of the reading can only be described as at best gloomy (with 75% of students worrying about money), one of the positives that we can take away is that this statistic is no worse than it was at the same point last academic year. However, with inflation increasing at the fastest rate for 30 years and National Insurance and Income Tax contributions increasing, these escalating costs will have a disproportionate effect on anyone on a low income, including students.
Can students afford to study in 2022?
One of the first things that struck me from the report was in relation to student finance vs. the cost of student accommodation and the number of students that mentioned this in their responses. Student quotes include:-
- “My funding from student finance isn’t enough to cover my student house rent. It’s over £2,000 under. I don’t receive any money from my parents. My wage from my employment mostly goes into rent & my car. I’m not left with a lot for a lot else.”
- “After receiving my student finance and paying my accommodation fees I am left with approximately £100 to last all term. . . .”
- “I’m about to be made homeless as I can no longer afford the rent.”
This makes me think about the affordability of some student accommodation and what institutions are doing in relation to students understanding these costs, specifically as a percentage of their income.
Students need to understand these before they move to campus and choose where they are going to live. Signing this contract is actually a great opportunity and motivator to engage; for any interventions to work, we need the right tools, the right time and the right motivation, and all of these are present and available at this life stage.
If we compare selecting student accommodation to what happens outside a university setting; usually, we are asked to provide evidence that we can afford to rent or buy a property. However, at 18, when we often have no idea how much student finance we will receive (not enough according to the report), how much our families can help, whether we will be able to get and make time for a part-time job or how much other things are going to cost, students can end up signing a legally binding agreement without really understanding the implications.
I appreciate many will have help from their families, but many will not and by not engaging in any sort of meaningful dialogue here, we are missing a real opportunity.
Regardless of where students want to live, this transition from home to university (in many cases a move from childhood to adult life) is a great opportunity to speak about a number of topics and possibly the best chance we will ever get to engage with students about money.
The UPP Foundation report published recently recommended that students should have a meaningful induction/support prior to starting at university and the report also reiterated:-
Sometimes the worst thing for a student’s mental health and wellbeing is financial hardship, or insecure accommodation.
Gender differences are quite stark
Another area of note from the research is the stark gender differences in relation to attitudes to money between those that identified as male vs. those that identified as female.
For example, 67% of those that identified as female said they learned about money from their caregivers. This compared with only 48% of those that identified as male. In addition to acknowledging that many students do not have a caregiver (where do estranged students or young people in care get their information from?), we also need to recognise that many parents are not that confident with their own money management skills.
Research from the Money and Pensions Service in 2021, which included 3,000 parents, found that across the UK, less than half (46%) talk openly with their children about money. Meaning millions of children could be missing out on the vital early stages of building a good relationship with their money.
One student said:-
My mom helps as much as she can and gives me some great advice but neither of us have much money to do anything with so it’s groundhog day.
The gender differences are also prominent when it comes to the ways students generate additional income, with females relying more heavily on family or caregivers for financial support than males. Females are also more likely to be employed in a ‘regular’ part-time job than males, who tend to have less-traditional, and possibly more risky, income streams.
Male students were much more likely than females to be part of the gig economy, generate income online, borrow money from friends or use payday loans. This evidences further that females tend to be far more risk-averse and have less financial confidence than males. However, those that identified as male are potentially more at risk if they are not properly educated about how they earn additional money. Again, these findings give us a great opportunity to educate students about the different ways of earning money safely and reducing any risk.
These differences also suggest that we need to approach the subject of money and financial wellbeing in a more innovative way to ensure it has meaning to all students, regardless of gender.
This is not a new idea. Advance HE undertook a study of the barriers and issues of male students accessing academic and pastoral support in 2012 (including financial support) and this highlighted how those that identified as female were more likely to value and access support services than those that identified as male. We need to ensure our interventions are embedded and timely if we want to reach as many students as possible.
The good and the bad
It is interesting to learn that 64% of the respondents say they feel they are good with their money. Yet only 54% of students in the survey say they track their spending (the very foundation of money management) and 24% say they have borrowed money from someone other than a parent, guardian or family member in the last year (not a good idea for many reasons).
However, I wonder if this is adding to students’ stress and anxiety because if you genuinely feel you are taking all the required actions to help yourself and things are still not going as well as you want them to, this can seriously impact your self-esteem and wellbeing. Many of us carry around a sense of shame about money: this is not unique to students. Even using the term ‘good with money’ (or ‘bad with money’) can have an impact on students.
Wellbeing – financial, physical and mental – it’s all wellbeing
I wrote a blog a couple of months ago about taking a whole university approach to financial wellbeing. The findings in the Blackbullion Student Money & Wellbeing 2022 report reinforce all of the points I raised in the blog. Without a whole university approach (or even better, a whole sector approach) to wellbeing (financial, physical and mental), students will continue to feel stressed about money and this, in turn, will impact their physical and mental health and ultimately their ability to study.
The figures speak for themselves: –
- 57% of those who worry about their finances say it negatively impacts their mental health
- 44% say worrying about money impacts their ability to concentrate and study
- 34% say their physical health is affected by money worries
The recent announcements regarding changes to the student finance system, lowering the repayment threshold and extending the repayment terms to 40 years, means that higher education is going to become more expensive overall. It’s really important that the sector takes this opportunity to explain this properly to students and applicants so that this is not yet another thing to cause stress and anxiety.
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