Education has become more of a luxury than ever before. As if balancing one’s GPA with planning one’s impending foray into being a fully-fledged adult wasn’t demanding enough attention, many a student finds themselves in a constant love-hate relationship with their bank balance.
Financial struggles at the undergraduate level can add considerable stress to an already demanding schedule, often chipping away at productivity. There’s an often overlooked layer of students that find themselves torn between their finances and duty to their curriculum. The issue hardly gets the attention it deserves.
Student Life is Anything But Cheap
With tuition fees set to see steady hikes in Singapore over the next decade or so, many students are faced with the reality of a mountain of debt in loans post-graduation. Granted, the repayments will only kick-in after their degree but the very fact that they are there can and often does cause stress levels to rise. An Arts undergraduate course at NUS (as of 2016) for example, would set one back S$29,350 – S$38,450 annually before subsidies. That adds up to around S$100,000 for the entire three years and is quite a formidable amount by any means.
With social mobility still a considerable issue in Singapore, many undergraduates find themselves struggling to make ends meet after managing to pay for their tertiary education, whether through a scholarship or otherwise. Statistics gathered mid last year from the Ministry of Social and Family Development suggest that there has been a 43.45% increase in families receiving Comcare (a government assistance scheme) help from 2012 to 2015. At least some of these families would presumably have university-going children who would be affected by their financial situation at home.
Even if a student’s family is able to tide them over for the course of their degree, one would have to agree that living on a stipend from a parent/guardian hardly provides for a comfortable life. Allowances rarely factor in inflation and the like and are usually decided upon based on the provider’s capacity. Students who study in city campuses like Singapore Management University are especially affected here when it comes to their food options.
On a more superficial level, many students also find themselves compelled to eat at nearby shopping centres for fear of being left out – social media influencers don’t help the situation by constantly defining what’s hot or not through Facebook and Instagram. Keeping up with the Joneses can and does usually cause immense stress.
The Toll of Stress
Financial burdens can often take a considerable toll on the very thing that a student is required to focus on – their coursework. Many are forced out of sheer necessity to hold multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Juggling employment with university can often cause their academic course to be compromised considerably. It’s not unheard of for students to not only fall behind but even drop out of university due to the need to support a family or loved one.
Health is another very real concern for students who find their financial situations overwhelming. Financial stress can lead to a myriad of medical conditions such as high blood pressure and higher chances of contracting cardiac disease and even strokes. On top of that, such stress can also lead to less talked about psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety which have equally dramatic ramifications. This can lead to long-term complications and extremely real situations that shouldn’t go unaddressed.
Avenues for Help
Many students who face financial hardship are oblivious to the help that is out there to ease the burden. Each institution of higher education provides financial aid to students who are going through hard times or come from relatively less fortunate backgrounds. The National University of Singapore, for example, has a portion of its website dedicated to offering various financial aid programmes that help with a portion of educational and living expenses for students in need. This is administered in the form of loans, bursaries, and work-study opportunities.
All universities also provide complimentary counselling services for students who are going through stressors of everyday life – support that can be very necessary to get through psychological impediments of any kind. Medical help is also always available via on-campus clinics.
It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, being in university and short of funds. The romanticism of budgeting and enjoying being a “broke student” aside, things get very real when one is unsure of where next semester’s fees are going to come from. That being said, one should be aware that help is out there – one only has to ask.