University Challenge 2023: Financial Literacy of Young People

It's time for our annual blog about the University Challenge project!

For those of you not familiar with the calendar event of the year that is the University Challenge, it’s when we have the pleasure of working alongside students at the University of Essex to produce a piece of work that aligns with our organisational priorities.

This year’s topic was to investigate the “financial literacy of young people in Essex” and the 'prize' was the satisfaction of producing insights that would inform the creation of a financial tool to support young adults' financial wellbeing.

What a difference a year makes! For this year we returned to having meetings…. wait for it ….. in person! The last couple of years have mainly been virtual for obvious reasons, but this year we’ve returned to meeting the students face-to-face.  And, visiting the students at the University of Essex has showed me one thing, I’m now an old man!

Throughout the Challenge six excellent students worked hard on different aspects of financial literacy to contribute to the project. The Challenge started with an insight day where we familiarised them with Essex, the County Council, our teams, the topic and what we wanted to know.  They also got to hear from our key stakeholder in this project the Head of Strategic Commissioning and Policy Clare Burrell.

Introducing a new aspect to this year's Challenge, we encouraged the students to join us for one day at County Hall to see what we get up to in a typical working day. Some students were lucky enough to sit in a full council meeting to view the setting of this year’s budget (and hear a lot about potholes).

But enough about potholes, I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seat to find out the insights from the students. Each student took on a different research question, all relating to financial literacy of young people.

What groups of young people struggle with financial wellbeing?

  • Low socioeconomic backgrounds, females and care leavers seem to struggle with their financial wellbeing
  • Students in employment tend to have higher levels of financial problems
  • Children growing up in households earning below 40k run into more financial problems as young adults.

The impact of financial stress on young people

  • In a survey 50% of young people experienced financial anxiety
  • The importance of not just having better financial resilience but trying to encourage healthy coping mechanisms

Financial literacy

  • Young people have trouble understanding how to manage debt, savings, and budgeting
  • We should encourage young people to build a regular saving habit
  • There seems to be a split within young people of those who prefer saving and those who prefer spending.

Financial literacy programs

  • Those in financial literacy programmes had better financial behaviours
  • Surveying those who took financial literacy, more people thought those programmes were not helpful.

Sources of advice

  • Young people tend to get their financial advice from family, friends, and social media
  • A large proportion of those surveyed didn’t know where to look for advice
  • There is an appetite for financial advice by young people.

Education and online components

  • Many young people spend at least  three hours online on a typical day
  • Young people are more engaged when there are goals and challenges.

Interesting stuff, right?  The above are only a few of the findings made by this year’s Challenge project participants.

I really liked this project, I felt I could make a difference for those in a similar situation to myself.

I feel like this project gave us a sense of purpose and felt  more motivated to do better as we knew it’ was going towards something.

I wanted to make sure those who are underrepresented in society have a voice, and feel with this project I’ve been able to help them be seen.

I can’t wait to see the financial tool for young people that is created using this great insight, what an achievement for the students to shape this. It’s also been great for me too, as the first University Challenge project I’ve done it’s been an interesting project topic and I have learnt a lot myself and I’m already looking forward to meeting next year’s students!



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