Image Source: Blue Cliff Career College
By Jack Evans
University can be a stressful time for students having to balance work, education and a social life.
Add the stress of financial instability and many students struggle to meet their full potential.
Students can experience financial issues in a variety of ways, including having to support their family while studying, or other university related costs such as student services fees.
Interviews with students, financial counsellors, and members of the Student Wellbeing Association found that financial stress is a prominent and important issue for many students.
It also found that there is not one type of financial stress, and so cases must be tackled individually.
Manager of the Student Wellbeing Association, Nadia Rajic, says financial issues are a frequent cause of stress for many students who attend counselling sessions.
“Financial issues are discovered as a primary underlying reason for their distress, anxiety or depression,” Ms Rajic said.
Among the most affected are rural, international, and mature aged students, who flag moving, living independently, or being single parents with low incomes as some of the main issues.
Manager of Student Support, Luis Gardeazabal, acknowledges the impact of higher fees and lack of support networks experienced by international students.
In one case, Jessica Moore*, a university student, spoke of how much of her time and income is dedicated to supporting her family.
“My responsibilities vary a lot from managing my sisters schedules, sports, finances, school meetings and their academic needs – as well as food shopping, preparation, cooking, cleaning, and budgeting,” she said.
“I also need to make sure that my sisters are mentally set and stable in as many ways as I can.”
While there isn’t one cause or answer to financial issues, there are many solutions offered by financial counsellors.
Depending on the severity of the issue, counsellors may refer students to other financial support agencies.
“These include welfare agencies and emergency accommodation providers, and in some instances, counsellors refer students for financial counselling,” says Ms Rajic.
However, counsellors have more frequently been able to help students formulate plans on how to manage their time and income, whether that be studying part-time or taking a leave of absence to work.
Balancing work and study is a major concern for many students, and according to Ms Rajic, data from the counselling services suggest students should work between 10 and 15 hours a week to maintain a good work/study balance.
For students supporting themselves and their families, this isn’t always an option.
In Jessica’s case, she said she struggles to earn a sufficient income, and that stress affects her studies.
“Work can take anywhere from 15 to 30 hours a week depending on what work I am given,” she said.
“The 15-hour weeks are a real struggle to afford anything much so they are often the weeks that we try to walk more places and eat less food.”
The future of financial support is looking increasingly positive, with the introduction of a new and revamped financial counselling service in the coming weeks.
Headed by Mr Gardeazabal and Financial Counsellor Debbie Saegenschnitter, this service looks to provide support to students on a number of levels.
The service is free for all students, confidential, and independent from the university, funded by the student association.
The university has provided six months worth of funding for financial services and students can access it either by referring themselves or being referred through the counselling service.
Mr Gardeazabal and Ms Saegenshnitter detailed a number of ways the financial counselling service will help students, including with budgeting, grants, advocating on behalf of students and even providing food through a food bank.
Following the launch of the program, they will later look to expand their services to help more students with varying issues.
Given the number of students facing financial issues, it is important that students are aware of the services the University and student association provides.
It is also important that students feel comfortable with seeking out help, as there are many ways of resolving financial issues.
Mr Gardeazabal further stated how important it is to maintain a good work, social life and university balance.
“You can be the smartest person in the world but if you don’t have balance in your life you’re not going to be as successful as you could be if you have that balance.”
*Names of people and companies have been changed or omitted for privacy reasons.