Money worries the main concern of most students – NUS survey shows

Huge demonstration against £9,000 fees in Trafalgar Square on December 9th 2010
Huge demonstration against £9,000 fees in Trafalgar Square on December 9th 2010

Interim results from the National Union of Students (NUS) ‘The Pound in your Pocket’ survey of students’ perceptions of financial support show that two-thirds (66%) of undergraduates aged 21-24 regularly worry about not having enough money to cover basic living costs.

The survey, released on Monday on the eve of NUS National Conference 2012, forms the first output from NUS’ Financial Support Commission which is investigating the costs faced by students today and the impact of the complex range of support measures available to them.

The study findings show fears among students about finding work after graduation and the debt they will leave with.

The results show that more than a third of students in every group faced severe financial worries with the biggest worries felt by NHS students, students with children and older students in further education.

Overall, 48% of all full-time undergraduates said they regularly worried about covering basic costs.

Less than half of all full time undergraduates (44%) said they feel confident that they will find a good job, if they want one, after leaving university. And nearly three quarters (73%) said they were concerned about future levels of debt.

The survey also asked students about the type of financial support they would like to receive, and who it should come from.

Two thirds (66%) of those questioned said that if they were given £1,000 in support from their university, they would like it to come in the form of a cash bursary.

Just 13% said they would like a fee waiver (effectively a reduction in tuition fees) while 4% opted for a discount on services, and 17% wanted a combination of the other options.

Under the heading Financial well-being the survey says:

‘One of NUS’ key objectives in fielding this survey was to better understand how the student finance system affects students’ lives.

‘We felt it was important to provide respondents with an opportunity to report their subjective experience of the student support system in order to put students’ voices at the heart of this project. To this end we asked respondents a number of questions about how they felt about their financial situation:

l ‘Disabled respondents were most likely to report feeling a lack of control in terms of their financial situation, with more than half reporting this (53 per cent), along with 52 per cent of NHS students and 51 per cent of full-time, young, and adult further education students.

l ‘Over half of adult FE respondents, student parents, NHS students, mature undergraduate students and disabled students strongly agreed or agreed that they regularly worry about not having enough money to cover their basic living expenses.

l ‘Half or more student parents, NHS respondents and disabled students indicated that they found it difficult to understand their financial entitlements (52 per cent, 51 per cent and 50 per cent respectively).

l ‘Respondents who considered themselves to be the most distracted by financial worry in relation to their studies were undergraduates in the 21-24 category, more than half of whom indicated that financial concerns affected their ability to concentrate on their studies (53 per cent).

l ‘Also strongly affected were student parents and NHS respondents where approaching half reported that they felt unable to concentrate on their studies because of financial worry (both 49 per cent).

Family support and costs

• Family financial support was provided to the majority of young further and higher education respondents but part-time, older respondents were less likely to receive this kind of support.

• ‘The group most likely to receive financial support from their family was young undergraduates (55 per cent) and the group least likely to receive this kind of support was undergraduate students over the age of 25 (21 per cent).

• ‘Adult further education students and student parents reported the most frequent application to discretionary funds (31 per cent and 29 per cent), followed by older undergraduates (21-24 and 25+), disabled students and NHS students.

• ‘The vast majority (92 per cent) of respondents living in the private rented sector reported that they were required to pay a deposit to secure their tenancy.

‘The most common deposit amount paid was £300 – £349.99 (selected by 16 per cent of all respondents who had paid a deposit).

• ‘For undergraduates living in halls of residence, the most commonly reported way of paying for the first term rent instalment was with a student loan which was used by 68 per cent of this group to pay for some or all of the cost.

‘Family support was relied on by one in three undergraduate halls-dwellers (33 per cent) to meet some or all of this cost.

• ‘The majority of respondents who regularly incurred travel expenses reported spending a figure up to £30 per week. FE respondents in all groups were the most likely to report expenditure in this range.

• ‘Amongst FE students who were 16-18 when they began their course – the group who has recently lost access to statutory funding in the shape of the Education Maintenance Allowance – 68 per cent stated that they paid on average up to £30 per week on travel.

• Looking at the combined higher categories of spending on travel (between £30 and £149.99 per week) the respondent groups who consistently reported spending the most include NHS respondents, full-time postgraduates, those living in the parental home, student parents, and placement students.

• ‘Sixty four per cent of undergraduate respondents (including NHS students), and 58 per cent of further education respondents, said that they had been required to pay for materials, activities or other costs associated with completing their programme of study. . .

‘Respondents were asked to respond to two separate statements about the extent to which they felt they worried about their finances. The first statement was ‘I regularly worry about not having enough money to meet my basic living expenses such as rent and utility bills’.

In response to this statement over half of adult FE students, student parents, NHS students, mature HE students and disabled students strongly agreed or agreed that they regularly worry about not having enough money to cover their basic living expenses.

Full-time FE students, 37 per cent of whom stated that they agreed or strongly agreed that they regularly worry about covering basic living costs.

Every subgroup had more respondents reporting regular worry than not.

In all groups, between one half (55 per cent) and approximately three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents reported worrying about their financial situation.

Concern about future debt and employment prospects

Respondents were first of all asked to respond to this statement: ‘I am confident that, if I want one, I will find a good job after completing my current course of study’.

The group who appeared to be most confident in relation to their employment prospects were NHS respondents, 56 per cent of whom agreed or strongly agreed that they were confident that they would find a good job after completing their course. . . .

Part-time students scored this question less confidently, with only 34 per cent of part-time undergraduates and 36 per cent of part-time postgraduates agreeing or strongly agreeing.

Disabled respondents were the least confident in relation to their job prospects with 38 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that they felt confident they would find a job after completing their studies. This may reflect awareness of, or concern about, the lower employment rates for disabled people in wider society, including graduates.

More than one in three young FE and undergraduate students also expressed concern about their ability to find a good job (34 per cent) – which may be a reflection of awareness of the current high level of youth unemployment (1.04 million as of March 2012, an increase of seven per cent on the year before).

Concern about future debt levels

Respondents were asked to reflect on the following statement and indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with it: ‘I am concerned about my future levels of debt’.

Overall, reported worry about future levels of debt was high with half or more of respondents in every subgroup reporting concerns.

The group most likely to agree or strongly agree that they had concerns about their future debt levels were, perhaps unsurprisingly, younger undergraduates (those who began their course when they were 17 to 20, or 21-24), and full-time undergraduates.

This is an interesting finding given that full-time undergraduate students are the group who are expected, in policy terms, to take on the highest amount of debt in order to participate in higher education.

Current high levels of youth unemployment might reasonably be expected to add to concerns that this group have.

Early analysis of this question suggests that, overall, part-time respondents were the group least worried about their future debt levels, with 32 per cent of part-time undergraduates and 28 per cent of part-time postgraduates disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that they were concerned about their future debt levels.

This compares with only 15 per cent of full-time undergraduates and 16 per cent of disabled students – who once again appear more uncertain about their future financial situation than other groups – and younger undergraduates and FE students.