Why edtech is key to empowering financial wellbeing

Among many other things, the pandemic has made financial wellbeing a hot topic of conversation

Earlier this year, new Blackbullion research found that nearly half of students (48%) have considered dropping out of university, or deferring a year, due to financial barriers – especially those exacerbated by COVID-19. Our report, Money and mental health: how financial wellbeing impacts students also found that 75% of students surveyed worry about finances; 67% of whom said financial anxiety negatively impacts their mental health.

And when we dug further, we found that money concerns engulf all elements of student wellbeing for the current undergraduate cohort – from optimism about the future (54%), motivation or productivity (47%) and the ability to focus and study (46%), through to sleep (45%) and confidence (42%). Physical health (38%) and relationships and friendships (26%) are also areas suffering as a result of students worrying about their finances.

With financial worries having such a powerful impact on the student experience, how can universities help support students on a pathway to financial wellbeing? When the pandemic hit last year, we saw a rapid acceleration in edtech adoption. As universities transitioned to online learning, remote teams and staff kitchen tables became student support centres. So, how can universities better leverage edtech to support financial wellbeing as part of holistic student health?

The emergence of edtech solutions in finance

Edtech has always had a reputation for solving multiple stakeholder challenges. And with higher education transforming operations so that more administrative functions are delivered remotely, tech’s opportunity is adding capacity, support and solutions that make life easier. Streamlining funding, managing application processes, funding payments – edtech is becoming increasingly integrated into these back office and staff workflow processes and improving student access to financial learning.

“Streamlining funding, managing application processes, funding payments – edtech is becoming increasingly integrated into these back office and staff workflow processes and improving student access to financial learning”

With financial wellbeing being front and centre of what we do at Blackbullion, we’re constantly innovating new ways to power the potential of financial education for students. If we take gamification, for example – a core pillar for our National Student Money Week, with over 30,000 students across 65 universities and FE colleges participating. The gamification element boosted effectiveness in terms of improving learning outcomes, supporting motivation, participation and overall learning experiences. Expect to see this integrated even further into edtech solutions in the future. 

Driving financial inclusion strategies

The pandemic catalysed the financial wellbeing conversation for students. The mix of access to finance, accommodation questions and students being hardest hit by job-cuts meant our university partners saw demand for student hardship funds sky-rocket. Our platform allowed partners to identify indicators of student hardship and provide the necessary support and intervention requirements, creating a pathway towards better financial wellbeing.

At the same time, the fallout of COVID-19 created a greater financial gap for the student population. Our research found that where students had previously considered dropping out or deferring a year due to money constraints, 44% received financial support from their parent(s)/guardian(s). Just 20% of respondents received additional funding from their university.

This reliance on the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’ suggests university inclusion strategies will be worryingly impacted over the longer-term, as students from lower income homes emerge as the hardest hit. Twenty-nine percent of university students surveyed whose financial situation has been affected by COVID-19 felt unable to ask their parent(s)/guardian(s) for financial support.

So it’s encouraging to see how edtech is championing financial inclusivity, tackling student needs and supporting university retention strategies. Other exciting players in the edtech community are innovating solutions to address a diverse range of challenges, from the cost of supplies to the accommodation needs of international students. Maintaining accessibility to learning will be key – and it’s a space that’s ripe for innovation.

Underpinning student experience with personalisation

With the disruption of the student experience over multiple lockdowns, higher education partners sought new ways to replicate connection, community and richer learning opportunities digitally. Edtech stepped up to enhancing student experience across learning, social and wellbeing areas. The ability to wrap in an additional layer of financial learning, helping students to navigate the uncertainty, through a blend of Blackbullion’s learning platform, financial resources and online events, became a real value-add for many of our partners.

And because students have become accustomed to personalised pathways and learning plans, delivered through collaboration tools and in-app experiences, edtech offers will remain a key part of that offer.

Recognising the central role finance plays in student success and satisfaction – not to mention retention and attainment – financial wellbeing is increasingly  playing a central role in the education ecosystem. Improving overall student wellbeing and changing the financial wellbeing narrative is on the agenda for innovative and forward-thinking leaders across the sector; from institutions themselves, to the thought leaders and policymakers.

The front gate for most institutions is now digital. And as we shift from response to recovery, there’s a unique opportunity to improve and innovate systems and processes that have been neglected or de-prioritised – like financial wellbeing. Edtech has the opportunity to deliver real change and support the sector’s mission of supporting students to reach their potential, to prepare them for an ever-changing future.

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