UK student wellbeing: what have we learned and what can we build on?

A third of UK students have described their overall wellbeing as poor/very poor, a poll commissioned by Studiosity suggests

At the beginning of the year, Studiosity commissioned Red Brick Research to carry out an independent survey* to over 2,000 UK students to understand student attitudes and feelings towards learning, their study patterns, and their expectations and experiences in their university courses.

We undertook the same study in 2019 and, with no surprises, there is a stark difference between how they feel about their overall higher education study experience now, compared to two years prior.

Students feel a lot less comfortable with studying alone, dropping from 62% to 30%. They also feel a lot more isolated, anxious, doubtful and demotivated.

There is a shift in the mentality of students and how they are dealing with stress and struggling with university work. We can see a 15-percentage point increase in those who have considered dropping out as a result of struggling with studying when they are alone.

The amount of people who consider quitting their course daily has doubled. The amount of people who have had to study all night, due to juggling other responsibilities, has also doubled.

“The source of stress is normally the omnipresence of various deadlines as well as the need to work a full-time job to pay for my upkeep.” –Male, postgraduate, UK

“My workload has drastically increased this year, and I tend to study through the night, where there’s so much to get through, and have found it difficult to balance my studies and find the time to relax.” – Female undergraduate, UK

Rays of light and clear indicators

However, within these survey outcomes there are rays of light and clear indicators of what might help reduce study anxiety for UK students. The survey findings show that 61% would still choose their same university again (16% would not).

Anecdotally via students at our partner universities, we have heard strong praise at their support and how well their lecturers and various support teams have reacted to the pandemic.

Students show a clear appetite for 24/7 online support for when they are not in class or on campus; larger support networks such as course related chat rooms and resource sharing platforms; virtual libraries where students can meet to discuss work, share resources or just catch up in a new take on familiar surroundings may be beneficial to student welfare.

Clearer signposting to services which can help with financial issues and emotional support as well as understanding these issues more fully was cited frequently.

“More lecturer-study supports – this can help us feel more supported and feel that the university is treating us well.” – Undergraduate, UK

“It would be really useful knowing someone is always there to help.” – Female undergraduate, UK

Opportunities post the pandemic pivot

All these findings, of course, directly relate to UK studentswellbeing. Clearly, university lecturers, support and library staff and senior leaders have all felt the impact.

The truth of it is, we just don’t know how long this pandemic will last, or what its full effects will be, but we do know that it has forced us all to grow in ways that may otherwise have taken years.

It’s allowed us to create new flexibilities to support staff and students and new tools to help optimize. This situation presents an opportunity to accelerate cultural change and transformation to create resilience for the future. For us as individuals, for those working within the education space, and for HEIs, the challenge has been in learning how to survive through this uncertainty.

Albeit cautiously, there does feel to be an air of positivity settling across the sector.

This was a sentiment echoed across the many great speakers during recent sector events. During her opening remarks at the UUK Student experience event, Prof Katie Normington, vice-chancellor at DeMontfort University, talked about positive times for change and “a flexible world in which that sense of belonging is created in different ways in order to support students”. Sara Custer, associate editor, curation at Times Higher Education summarised THE Digital Universities week saying that UK HEIs have been heroic, that problems can be solved through partnerships and encouraged the creation of learning communities on/offline and to embrace digital tech possibilities.

Dr Helen Carmichael, education professional development lead at University of Southampton, talked about co-creation and working with students. “It’s all about building trust. Students are clever, articulate and engaging human beings. These enriching conversations are a win-win for quality,” she said.

Managing our way through in order to thrive

So how do we thrive?

How do we take what we have learned, listen to what students and higher education staff are saying and improve?

Studiosity has brought together a group of senior leaders from across the HE sector to talk about this important topic and wholeheartedly encourages you to register for the event taking place 10am, Thursday 19 August.

Expertly chaired by Prof Judyth Sachs, we’ll be exploring what our panel members have learned about their own resilience and that of their colleagues; effective strategies and interventions to identify students and staff who are experiencing wellbeing issues; exploring changes in behaviour; and interactions between student and students and students and academics during the last 18 months.

Join our expert guest panel as they talk about the challenging issues of how we may need to reset our aspirations and our practices in order to improve student wellbeing.

With special thanks to: Alison Golden, director of student health and inclusion, University of Bristol; Jon Baldwin, managing director of higher education, Jisc; Prof Christina Hughes, founder and CEO Women-Space Leadership; honorary professor, University of Kent; visiting professor University of Coventry; Kerry Kellaway, head of library, Plymouth Marjon University; Prof Judyth Sachs (chair), Studiosity chief academic officer and former deputy vice-chancellor at Macquarie University, Australia.

Thursday 19 August, 10am BST

*The 2021 UK Student Wellbeing Report, an independent survey to over 2,000 UK students to understand their experiences and struggles in relation to academic study will be available following the 19th August UK Student Wellbeing symposium.

Works cited

DeSpain, B . (2020) “Transforming A Work Culture During A Pandemic”. Forbes, 11 December [online]. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2020/12/11/transforming-a-work-culture-during-a-pandemic/?sh=6be938f35eec (Accessed: 3 Aug 21)

LinkedIn logo/link – https://www.linkedin.com/company/16963098

Twitter logo/link –  https://twitter.com/studiosity

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