“The students are not only disappointed that their university experience is different in terms of teaching and learning, they are also asking, ‘What does this mean for all the other things I wanted to get out of college? ? The people I could have met? The sports and the companies I could have joined? Said Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president of higher education at the National Union of Students.
Gyebi-Ababio set the stage for a discussion on how universities can support the mental health of their students during an online panel hosted by The Guardian and supported by Lenovo.
Professor Steve West, University of the West of England vice-chancellor, said the most important steps were for institutions to be transparent with students about what they should expect from this year and that ‘they promote an open and welcoming environment in which students feel comfortable talking about mental health issues.
He added that UWE collects data on students to track both their academic performance and well-being. “We’re starting to see if they opt out, if they don’t turn in their work, don’t visit the library, don’t access the virtual learning environment. When that happens, we can trigger a simple question: “Are you okay?” Do you need help? He said, adding that “this is not about pointing fingers, this is not Big Brother”.
West also stressed the importance of building online communities and ensuring students’ basic technological needs are met, through scholarships for laptops and dongles, so they don’t have to worry about how to study effectively.
Kate Lister, Lecturer in Education Studies and Head of Mental Health at the Open University, agreed that fostering a sense of belonging is key to ensuring good mental health for students studying at a distance. . “So many students feel vulnerable, disenfranchised, as if they are not part of the university, and this can be exacerbated by the online environment,” she said. She recommended activities that bring students together and allow them to express their opinions.
Rich Henderson, director of global education solutions at Lenovo, said video games could be an innovative way to build a sense of community among students. “It creates a social bond, doing a quest together,” he says.
Lister noted that in a recent survey she conducted of 500 distance education students, 62% said the assessment was causing the greatest strain on their mental health.
At UWE, West agreed it was a revelation during the pandemic. As soon as the assessments and exams were canceled in March, anxiety levels dropped significantly and counseling services saw demand drop.
“We’ve established that we don’t need to put everyone in an exam room and assess them in a very traditional way,” he said. “I messed that up, threw it out the window and said, ‘We’re never going back because it was garbage back then, it just tests them on what they don’t. don’t know. ‘ Let’s be creative, stop overvaluing staff and students. ”
Michelle Morgan, higher education consultant, pointed out that the challenges are not the same for different groups of students. She feared that suburban students, care leavers, and separated students would be sidelined in conversations that were too majority-focused.
She was especially worried about freshmen, as many stopped learning in March. This means that re-acquainting themselves with study skills can put particular strain on their mental health, she said.
She recommended that universities take an empathic approach. “It’s about building confidence among students who have had really bad months and understanding how they are feeling. We need to think about how to make it easier for students to return to school, ”she said.
A major boost to the mental health of students has come from the government news on how they can get home for Christmas, Gyebi-Ababio said. “The fact that he’s finally out is a huge relief for the students who have braved themselves to return to their loved ones.”But she warned that it was important for universities to be understanding in January. While some students will be happy to return to campus, others will want to continue their home education, avoid face-to-face teaching, or even quit their degrees.
Morgan added, “If the students decide to withdraw, make it the best withdrawal experience possible, as that may be the only thing that will bring them back to learning at some point in the future.”
On the panel
Rachel Hall (Chair), University Editor, The Guardian
Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president of higher education, National Union of Students
Rich Henderson, Director of Global Education Solutions, Lenovo
Kate Lister, lecturer in educational studies at the Open University
Michelle Morgan, higher education consultant specializing in the student experience
Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor, University of the West of England