Student mental health has declined during pandemic, finds HEPI poll

At the same time, says the third such HEPI survey since Covid-19 hit the UK, there is a growing satisfaction with online learning

A new survey commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) paints a mixed picture as undergraduates continue to adapt to life under Covid-19.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 1,075 students polled by Youthsight said their mental health had declined since the beginning of the pandemic, with just 14% declaring an approvement.

At the same time, fewer than half (42%) pronounced themselves satisfied with their university’s provision of mental health services.

“Student mental health has been an issue since well before this crisis,” said HEPI director of policy and advocacy, Rachel Hewitt.

“However, with more than half of students saying the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health, it will be critical that universities continue to provide the necessary support to their students and monitor levels of poor mental health and wellbeing among the student body.”

More positively, when HEPI first asked students about the effects of the pandemic back in March, fewer than half were satisfied with their university’s online replacements for face-to-face learning; in the survey published today (December 3), the figure has risen to 59%.

More than half of students are concerned about how they will return to university after Christmas to start their next term – Rachel Hewitt, HEPI director of policy and advocacy

“It’s great to see more students are now finding their online delivery satisfying, compared to the end of the last academic year,” said Hewitt.

“This is likely a marker of the work that has been put in place by universities to ensure blended learning can be made a success, as well as students adapting to the new way of learning.”

Comparing today’s pandemic-related poll to the second, conducted in June, reveals a wide disparity between expectation and reality when it comes to teaching methods.

Back then, barely a fifth of students (21%) thought that all of their learning would take place online. In actuality, the majority (53%) are being taught wholly remotely.

A broader look at undergraduate life reveals a routine scarcely recognisable to those educated in a pre-pandemic age, with almost two-thirds (61%) saying that they spend most, if not all, of their time in their accommodation.

While universities will be relieved to read that 79% of students say that their higher education experience feels quite safe or better, many are uncertain about what the new year will hold.

“More than half of students [are] concerned about how they will return to university after Christmas to start their next term,” said Hewitt.

“It is clear that government need to publish guidance on this as soon as is possible, so students can be confident about getting back to their studies in the new year.”

You may also like: Students tell Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, about the mental health impact of lockdown in halls


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