Survey gives insights into student life

Students need homes which support them to get the most out of their time at university says John Blanshard, Unite Students

Earlier this year we published our annual Insight Report, a major survey of almost 9,000 UK students and applicants about how they experience student life. 

We discovered that social and emotional factors play a key role in how students experience university life. Students who responded that they were satisfied with their lives were also less likely to think about leaving university early. Only 6% of this group said they had strongly considered dropping out. However, 26% of students who said they were unhappy with their lives had strongly considered leaving. 

The survey also revealed that one of the drivers of life satisfaction is social integration; 48% of happy students feel well integrated with their flatmates compared to 28% of unhappy students.

Student accommodation clearly has an important role to play in all of this. 

Flatmates are an important source of support. Around seven in 10 students said they could turn to them in a crisis. Students who said they were satisfied with the communal areas in their accommodation were more likely to feel integrated and almost 50% happier than those dissatisfied with communal areas.

More than two years ago we committed to a £40m investment, all focused on creating buildings and services which would support our students to succeed during their study years and beyond. This was driven by our core business purpose ‘Home for Success’ which focuses all 1,250 of our employees and our suppliers on a common goal of best supporting our students in ways that matter to them.

Our Insight Report follows this purpose as it increases our understanding of what students value and need. It helps us better understand and strengthen the connection between accommodation and success. 

Using our findings, we are piloting an ‘ambassador programme’ which employs returning students to help new students make a good transition from home to university and quickly feel welcome and integrated. We will also be working with a university to evaluate strategies to increase first-year retention, using accommodation. 

We have become increasingly interested in the ‘resilience’ of students; what enables some to thrive at university whilst others struggle? Using earlier UK and US research into what defines resilience, we identified it as a series of skills and attitudes which include persistence, goal setting, deferred gratification and the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a setback. 

One in eight students and applicants consider themselves to to have a specific, named mental health condition

Our Insight Report research revealed that resilience plays a role in both retention and overall satisfaction. 

We also discovered that a tendency to panic under pressure, fear of failure and dwelling too long on negative experiences connected to perceptions of a lower level of life satisfaction and thinking about leaving university early. 

This has yielded us lots of content ideas for our Student Life Hub – a digital platform which all of our students can access and which includes lots of information about getting the most out of university. 

Our survey found that one in eight students and applicants consider themselves to have a specific, named mental health condition, and more than half experienced stress, worry or strain over the four weeks leading up to the survey.

We already train our frontline teams in supporting student mental health issues but we are developing this further. In the coming year we will make a team member available to each of our buildings who has undertaken specialist mental health training. This will enable them to work proactively with a student, university and any relevant professional services to make sure the student receives the appropriate support. 

We will also be introducing important changes to our behaviour management policy so that we can continue to manage behaviour fairly but can improve how we take mental health conditions under consideration.

I am really excited about how we, and other people in the sector, can use our findings to further improve the lives and experiences of our students. I feel privileged to have so many opportunities to support young people to discover their potential and enjoy good outcomes at university and beyond. 

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