‘Students benefitted from increased autonomy and freedom’

| Jelle Posthuma

The intelligent lockdown did not have a significant effect on students’ wellbeing, nor did it increase mental health problems. ‘Quite remarkable results,’ says researcher Llewellyn van Zyl, who was involved in the collaborative study of the UT, Utrecht University and Eindhoven University of Technology.

The study is based on the experiences of 171 students from Eindhoven University, explains Van Zyl, who is externally affiliated with the UT’s HRM department. ‘At first it was not our intention to survey what influence the lockdown had on the students' well-being. We just wanted to test how students reacted to the a new master programme in areas such as the work pressure, study resources, common mental health problems and mental health over the course of a quartile.’

However, corona changed everything. The first survey took place five weeks before the lockdown, followed by two weekly measurement moments during the lockdown, and one six weeks after the closure of the university. ‘Thanks to this we were able to find out exactly what influence the lockdown had on the students' well-being.’

‘Students adapt effectively’

Van Zyl states that the lockdown had a far less negative impact on the students' mental health and study resources than one would expect. ‘The lockdown obviously had an enormous impact on the university's infrastructure. The entire education system changed. Strangely enough, our research shows that students were able to effectively adapt to these changes. For example, students mental health remained practically unchanged over the entire period. Work pressure, stress, and anxiety actually decreased after the lockdown, and perceptions of lecturer support, information availability and personal growth initiatives increased.’

Media often highlighted the negative aspects of the lockdown, says the researcher. ‘Students would feel lonelier, more isolated and would not be able to manage the demands of the new education system. But in my estimation, students actually benefitted from the increased autonomy and freedom they experienced because of the lockdown. They can study when they want, how they want and where they want.’

Indicative research

However, the rigorous switch to online education did take its toll on teachers, the researcher acknowledges. ‘Although we have not studied this, from personal experience I can say that the workload has increased by 600 percent - which is no exaggeration. I am quite a digital native, and I already had some experience with online education, but some colleagues had to start from scratch. When the summer holidays started, we were all completely done.’

The study focuses on one programme at one university. Nevertheless, Van Zyl believes that the results are relevant to the whole of the Netherlands. ‘A similar study was conducted at Leiden University and the results are in line with what we found. The fact that the universities in VSNU (The Association of Universities in the Netherlands) had a shared strategy and combined approach was also important. In my view, the outcome of our research is therefore indicative for the overall state of higher education and students at the time of the first intelligent lockdown.’