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Improvement to student satisfaction but increasing concerns for mental health

Andréanne Orsier Divisional Director, Higher Education 01/04/2021

A look at the effects of COVID-19 on university students wellbeing

We've worked in partnership with The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) on our Monitor Series since 2015 - delivering ground-breaking insight to the HE sector for over a decade.

During the past year we've focused on tracking undergraduate attitudes and monitoring how students have been impacted by the pandemic. In this 11th wave of research we reveal the latest shifts in student satisfaction and mental health.

For every student who feels their mental health has improved, over four feel it has got worse."

We polled over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students to see how the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting them and what their feelings were now that we have a potential roadmap out of lockdown. The report is available to read here.

YouthSight’s CEO, Ben Marks commented on the results: “How well have universities handled the pandemic?  That is the question that these four YouthSight /HEPI surveys has tried to answer, tracking the views of representative samples of students over four waves of fieldwork, from March 2020 to March 2021. The results show a mixed picture: on the one hand, student satisfaction with the provision of online learning has marginally improved over the year and university messaging around the impact of Covid has got clearer.  But on the other hand, student mental health has really suffered. For every student who feels their mental health has improved, over four feel it has got worse. It’s long been said by that universities need to put more resource behind their mental health (and other) student services: let’s hope the pandemic can be a catalyst for change.”

This report follows on our three previous rounds of polling, undertaken at the start of the crisis in March 2020, at the end of the last academic year in June 2020 and during the last lockdown in November 2020.

Key Stats:

  • 66% of undergraduates say they haven’t received any financial reimbursement from their university or accommodation provider as a result of the pandemic; 19% have received reimbursement (13% from their university and 2% from both).
  • 66% are living in their usual term-time accommodation; 34% are not.
  • 56% are not expecting to receive any more face-to-face teaching this academic year, compared to 44% who are.
  • 54% are satisfied with online learning, compared to 59% in November, 42% in June and 49% in March 2020.
  • 65% say the messaging from their higher education institution on the impact of the pandemic on this academic year has been clear and 19% say the messaging has been unclear.
  • 63% of students say their mental health is a little or much worse as a result of the pandemic compared to just 14% who say their mental health is a little or much better.
  • 23% describe their mental health as the same and 21% describe their mental health as much worse.
  • 38% of students are satisfied with the delivery of mental health services, whereas 50% of students are satisfied with the delivery of other support services.

Director of Policy and Advocacy at HEPI, Rachel Hewitt commented: “In recent weeks we have seen more guidance published about how restrictions will start to be lifted across the UK, but the picture for students remains unclear. There is talk about the student ‘return to campus’, but these results clearly show that many students are already in their term-time accommodation, despite most not expecting face-to-face teaching to return this academic year. Governments across the UK should take heed of these results in developing their plans to ease restrictions.

“Despite the challenging circumstances, university staff have provided an online experience that most students are satisfied with, as well as most students being satisfied with their institutions’ overall response to the handling of the pandemic. However, universities will need to continue to be mindful of the impact that the pandemic is having on students’ mental health and what this means for the delivery of their support services.”

This article was originally published by YouthSight, acquired by Savanta in May 2021.

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