We are interested in youth-oriented research and informed perspectives related to the topics of financial literacy and financial capability and their relationship with wellbeing and wellness, life and economic outcomes. In 2015, TWA was the industry partner in a research project involving Queensland University of Technology and University of Southern Qld.


2015 Student perceptions of high school financial education

Over 65% of first year tertiary students aged under 20, believe that their high school did not prepare them with the financial life skills they will need as adults. At a time when tens of thousands of final year secondary students are about to leave high school this is an alarming concern.

Ex-teacher and now Director of The Wealth Academy, Ken Swan says this is no surprise. “For too long our teenage children have been exiting school exposed to the complexity of the financial world, without a sound knowledge and set of skills to interact with that world.”

Despite the rhetoric from government and school systems, our schools seem to have given scant recognition to the importance of financial education. Only 12% of students think that their financial education at school was adequate. Most students’ comments were indicative of the following:

The school did the bare minimum teaching on the subject. There needs to be a massive overhaul of the financial teaching …

Almost all my financial skills knowledge came from what my parents taught me, I gained next to nothing in my high school about it.

It appears that financial education opportunities in most schools are a game of chance. Most students do not choose subjects that include financial concepts within them, and even if they do, those concepts will be minimal.

Students definitely want more — 71.1% of respondents believe financial life skills should be taught weekly, monthly or at least once per term. Most students indicated they received little or no financial education when they were attending high school.

For most schools, this may mean a new approach to financial education. It can’t just sit within subject selection; it must sit firmly within pastoral care and life skills programs that expose all students to these necessary skills.

While some in the community think secondary students do not think about their financial future. This is incorrect.

Over 77% of students indicated that they think about their financial future often and frequently. This should be no surprise. What young person wants to live in poverty? What young person wants to make poor financial decisions that will impact their future well-being?

One respondent said, “I am worried about my financial future and it stresses me to think about moving out of home.”

Respondents provided compelling evidence that they want to learn about financial products and services. 98.5% of students said they wanted to learn about financial products e.g. mortgages before they use them and 91.2% said they wanted to learn more about financial services. This makes sense!

Superannuation is one product that we want all young people to understand. Dr Laura de Zwaan from QUT School of Business said that “the students understanding of superannuation was incredibly low. Only 36.8% knew super was taxed at a lower rate and only 36.8% could identify the best indicator of fund performance (returns after fees are deducted). 62.3% did have a super account, although 10.3% admitted not knowing if they did.”

When asked if schools thought the financial education of students is important, the findings were similarly clear. Only 14% of students thought that their high school rated the financial education of their students as very important or quite important. This contrasts clearly with their perceptions of parent views. Over 65% of students thought their parents rated financial education as very important and quite important. Over 80% of the students also self-rated financial education as very important or quite important. Clearly, students were not impressed with their school’s commitment.

Dr Toni Chardon emphasises the role of parents in agitating for more action in schools. “As an ex-teacher I know that schools are busy places, but it is important that parents strongly encourage schools to find time to provide more financial life skills education. Parents must have a strong voice to ensure all students leave school with a sound understanding of taxation, superannuation budgeting etc.”

Dr Chrisann Palm in her analysis of the findings stated “many self-rated their financial literacy quite highly, particularly on the topics of budgeting and saving. However, objectively-tested literacy revealed that a high proportion of respondents displayed very low literacy especially in budgeting, investment, superannuation and taxation knowledge. These results indicate the prevalence of over-confidence in certain financial areas.”

Financial overconfidence is something no education system should be encouraging, and no parent would want for their children.

Clearly, young Australians want to know more about the financial world in which they will live and work. Schools cannot be the only answer, but they must do more than what they are currently doing. The lack of intervention can have several effects, one of which is an immediate perception by students that they may have been taught all that they need to know.

As this research points out, students soon find out that they needed much more.

Governments, the financial service industry, business and parents have a role in supporting schools to find local financial life skill education solutions. All students, from all sectors, deserve the opportunity to receive a financial life skills education that will introduce them to improved financial decision-making processes than they currently acquire during secondary schooling.

To learn more, download the High-School Financial Life Skills Research Report for Educators


Dr Laura de Zwaan, Lecturer, QUT Business School, Accountancy
Dr Chrisann Palm, Lecturer, QUT Business School, Accountancy
Dr Toni Chardon, Lecturer in Taxation Law, University of Southern Queensland, School of Law and Justice

2021 Research Intention

The Wealth Academy is establishing a research project based upon wealth concepts and youth. Wealth is not a topic considered important in our education system, yet wealth services are our largest employer, financial wellbeing is one of the major societal issues of our time, all youth are expected to have a superannuation account and the wealth industry has recently been interrogated as part of a royal commission. It is timely, that research into wealth and youth perspectives becomes a focus in our national financial education conversation.

If you would like to partner with us in this research or have a perspective that you think we should explore, please contact us.

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