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Universities and colleges must prioritise student wellbeing, NUS warns

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the wellbeing of students, with 60 percent of students reporting low self-esteem, a new survey from NUS (National Union of Students) has found.

Students are also more likely to have experienced feelings of isolation during this period with 73 percent of students interacting less with students from their institution, 72 percent less with their course mates and 59 percent less with their friends. LGBT+ students and disabled students were also more likely to experience low self-esteem at this time.

During the pandemic students are relying more on family members; however, a recent research report highlighted the potentially negative effects of lockdown on some members of the LGBT+ community, indicating a need for increased support or outlets during this time. LGBT+ students were more likely to report that they did not feel safe in their current accommodation.

Similarly, disabled students are interacting less with their family and friends, suggesting a need for additional support or ways of interaction that could help with keeping them in touch.

The Coronavirus and Students Survey phase II took place in July and involved over 4,000 students, building upon the previous research issued by NUS in April 2020. Coronavirus has increased concerns for students, placing additional stresses on them. 82 percent are still worried about the health of their family members and 3 in 4 students are worried about how they will pay their rent.

There are also large concerns with returning to campus, with 56 percent of students concerned about contracting the virus on campuses. This underlines the need for universities and colleges to announce plans for how they will prioritise staff and student safety.

Moreover, 18 percent of students have not had the necessary support to deal with coronavirus, with disabled students and those with caring responsibilities more likely to have not received this support. Students would like to see more access to mental health support and counselling, medical support, financial assistance and wellbeing support from their university or college.

Sara Khan, NUS Vice President (Liberation and Equality), comments:

“The wellbeing of students should be paramount to everyone in the education sector. There can be no doubt that coronavirus has taken its toll on young people, with many experiencing increased isolation, low self-esteem and sleep deprivation.

“COVID-19 has further entrenched the oppressive systems that harm already disadvantaged groups. Students of colour, disabled students, student parents and LGBT+ students have been disproportionally affected and desperately need greater support from universities and colleges. Institutions and our learning environments have not been designed in a way to be accessible to these students and this is why we see disproportionate impacts on them.

“But we must also all recognise and tackle the causes of these mental health problems. Financial stress is a major concern for all students and this has only been heightened by coronavirus. The government must alleviate these concerns, by providing more financial support for students, if we are truly to tackle the mental health crisis. Similarly, physical spaces, services and online learning are often inaccessible to certain groups of students, and this can lead to negative impacts on their mental health.

“Students need to be confident that when they ask for help at these difficult times, they will find it. Students’ unions are best placed to provide this so we really need to make sure students’ unions are properly funded to enable them to meet this increasing demand so students receive the support so clearly needed.”