Financial literacy among undergraduates: Research findings of concern

Friday, 23 October 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka has shown a high literacy rate of about 92% compared to other south Asian countries, and is on par with other developed countries. However, there is a noted dearth of surveys and studies that assesses the financial literacy level in the Sri Lankan context. 

It is observed that people with low levels of financial literacy suffer from that lack of knowledge at every stage of their lives and studies also assert that people with a high degree of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement, and that people who plan for retirement have more than doubled the wealth of people who don’t. On the other hand, the quite alarming fact noted is that even some educated professionals had fallen into the prey of financial scams in Sri Lanka, questioning the financial literacy of such intellectuals. 

Thus, a study was carried out involving the undergraduates in the Sri Lankan state universities (due to being one of the major sources of future leaders) to find the level of financial literacy and how different specialisations impact the financial literacy levels. In the research conducted by the authors, the undergraduates were tested on their fundamental financial knowledge on dimensions of general finance, saving and borrowings (i.e. banking products), insurance and investment areas, and nearly 653 students from the five main state universities in 10 main disciplines (business and non-business disciplines) were selected, where the data was collected over a period of 1 1/2 years. Undergraduates of the business discipline included undergraduates from accountancy and business management and non-business discipline included undergraduates from the fields of engineering, physical sciences, humanities and social sciences and information technology. 

The findings indicate that the overall financial literacy level was on average 69.58% out of 100% of undergraduates in the business discipline. In terms of the sub-dimensions of financial literacy, these undergraduates scored the highest of 74.51% in the savings and borrowing sub-category, while they scored the lowest of 59.08% in the investment sub-dimension. When compared with the general literacy rate of 92% of this country, the findings of this study indicate that their overall average is quite lower as well as knowledge in investment sub-dimension is even lower. 

The alarming finding is related with the undergraduates coming from the non-business majors, where the average financial literacy level was only 42.83% out of 100%, which is even lower than 50%. This we see as a major concern. Their knowledge in the investment related sub-dimension was just 28.16% out of 100%. 

When considering these findings of the research conducted by the authors, it is clear that the undergraduates coming from the business management discipline had a better knowledge than students from non-business management discipline. Although the students coming from the non-business disciplines may be conversant in their own areas of study, they were lacking an awareness in fundamental financial aspects that any citizen should possess to continue normal day-to-day life. 

The authors observe that there is a systematic deficiency of personal finance education in our local education system. Introduction of subjects related to financial literacy for all students (regardless their discipline) in their formative stages as well as introducing course components related to accounting and finance in the curriculums of non-business majors at universities (and other tertiary institutions) could be suggested to remedy this dire situation. 

Researchers’ names:

S.S. Edirisinghe (surathse1978@gmail.com) and S.S. Samarakkody Senior Lecturer

Department of Accounting, Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education, Sri Lanka,

Senior Prof. D.B.P.H. Dissa Bandara and Dr. A.R. Ajward Senior Lecturer

Department of Accounting, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

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