Changing the student finance conversation with edtech

Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder of Blackbullion, on the growing importance of quality financial education

This year, Blackbullion is thrilled to support the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) on its ninth National Student Money Week, 2020. With over 90 universities from across our UK community participating, it’s the biggest student money awareness week in the country. It’s also a necessary focus.

Coming out of a wealth management career, I’d seen the transformative power of financial capability and how it can support a person’s outcomes. But I wanted to open this up to make great financial education more accessible to everyone – not just a privileged few.

Financial education and recruitment

The case for financial education is more critical than ever, as more students question the value of higher education. YouGov research shows that 35% of students who graduated between 2010 and 2017 believe that the costs of going to university simply “aren’t worth it.”  This means that any effective recruitment – and retention – strategy has to include the financial case for attending university at the outset. And it needs to be underpinned by a robust financial education to ensure it’s accessible to more students.  Tech encourages, enables and empowers students to engage more with their financial education.

Being able to offer students a financial roadmap before their time at university gives students a full understanding of their finances and allows them to manage these proactively throughout their university career and beyond. It becomes a real investment in their future.

Widening access

Recently, the university watchdog, the Office for Students, highlighted a poor picture around the “access gap” between wealthier and poorer students, setting out a roadmap for it to be halved in five years.

“Edtech enables a new way to engage with learning – accessible, bite-sized modules, 24/7 and importantly, on their terms”

Working with students and with dedicated parent resources looking at topics such as budgeting, savings, debt and risk management, we’re seeing our partners build financial learning into their widening participation strategies. Students from lower-represented backgrounds and first-in-family cohorts benefit from this open conversation in particular.

Edtech enables a new way to engage with learning – accessible, bite-sized modules, 24/7 and importantly, on their terms; one Blackbullion lesson has been completed every minute of every hour for the last 12 months.

Embedding deeper financial tools such as fund applications, scholarships and bursaries is another way to widen participation, providing more students with the financial support they need throughout university.

Bringing edtech into the retention conversation

Financial anxiety is a lead indicator of a young person dropping out of university-particularly for low participation groups.  Our research shows that the student groups most in need of developing financial capability are younger (prospective and first year students) and/or those without strong family support (care leavers, first in family cohorts). We’ve seen the impact of investing in this cohort.

However, our recent Financial Capability report, showed respondents identifying a lack of priority placed on second year students in particular. In fact, just 25% of universities focused on providing any support to this group, the ‘abandoned middle child’, despite this being a time of major transition as students often move into private accommodation, take on more household expenses, sometimes preparing for their third year in industry or overseas, which can result in more debt.

We want students to think about life beyond university too; it goes without saying that the more prepared you are, the easier the transition and we support future focused financial education strategies that look at the full student lifecycle.

The case for financial wellbeing

Financial education and wellbeing isn’t a stand-alone. Blackbullion’s research shows that 64% of students say financial anxiety affects their mental health. We know money anxiety to be a major trigger for mental health challenges, which in turn impacts student performance and their personal lives: students are most likely to experience stress or anxiety (51%) and a significant proportion will have difficulty sleeping (27%), experience panic attacks (9%) or turn to alcohol to cope.

The more we understand that financial education underpins the entire student experience, the more we can make it available across every touch point.

You might also like: Using edtech to assess and improve teacher wellbeing

Collaboration with student services teams

Edtech is a powerful way to drive efficiencies and innovation for support services teams, freeing up their time to focus on students more meaningfully. An example here is hardship funding, which is often a last resort for students, so an instantly fraught and stressful time. Each year, almost £30m is distributed in hardship funding in the UK. The average application takes between two to four weeks to complete, frustrating student services staff and causing students unnecessary anxiety.

With the data and analytics available through edtech solutions like ours, education leaders can also get closer to behaviours, outcomes and measure impact more effectively.

Our university partners are constantly seeking out new ways to innovate in their financial education delivery, integrating it into the core of university experience and student lifecycle. More and more, we’re seeing great results from a multi-layered approach that develops both student financial literacy skills and provides financial support. With edtech at the heart, we can collaboratively enhance individual student experiences, integrate wellbeing with learning, and empower young people with the skills they need to reach their full potential.

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