In the middle of the summer of 2020, the UT conducted a wellbeing survey among its students. The results of the survey were shared with the public at the end of last month – in the middle of the second lockdown. In this completely new situation (almost one year of Covid and the toughest lockdown to date), the question arises: what is the value of a wellbeing study that was conducted last summer?
‘The value of the research is limited in a way,’ Annet de Kiewit acknowledges. She is a study advisor at Mechanical Engineering and wrote the wellbeing report. ‘The world has indeed changed completely. In terms of mental health, the summer was perhaps the best period we have had in the past year. Now the situation is a lot more complicated. Even the optimists are struggling. If we were to conduct a survey now, the results would be worse in many ways.'
According to De Kiewit, a recent survey by national student organisation ISO provides a good insight into the current situation. The results show that one in three students rate their lives as highly unsatisfactory. ‘This will be no different for UT students. Everyone was still quite cheerful after the Christmas holidays, but now we meet the man with the hammer. Students often belong to the age group 18 to 24. Many studies have shown that this group in particular has a hard time during the pandemic.’
Many of the concerns that students have now, correspond to those of last summer, says De Kiewit. The UT's wellbeing survey shows that students are worried about a variety of things. Study progress, social contacts, housing, finances, climate, job opportunities and the virus itself: these are just a few examples from an even longer list. Students also have a less healthy lifestyle and experience an increase in physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches and backaches. ‘Let it be clear: for students, the uncertainties during the corona crisis are immense.’
This observation is especially true for international students. Whereas Dutch students are mainly concerned about their social contacts, international students worry about their study progress, money and job opportunities. They are also more afraid of the corona virus, it seems. This may be due to the corona policy in the Netherlands, which differs from that in their country of origin.
An additional problem is that the Dutch healthcare system is not fully equipped for international students, De Kiewit knows. And then there are also insurance issues. ‘Medical care in English remains a point of concern. It seems that the UT is growing faster than the region can facilitate. Fortunately, we have noticed that internationals are finding digital help in their home countries. They follow an online therapy in China, for example.’
It raises the question of what the UT – as an educational institution – can do for students with difficulties. The wellbeing survey thus asked students how the university contributed to their wellbeing during the corona crisis. ‘It turned out that students are particularly grateful for the university's online education, which means that they are not suffering from study delays. The UT can therefore best focus on the educational needs of students in the future to improve their wellbeing. This is an important conclusion from the study.'
Yet, other initiatives can help as well, De Kiewit knows. Together with the Student Union, she is working on a so-called 'peer-to-peer training'. ‘In the past period, we have noticed that students like to help each other. That is why we will soon start a training together with the SU for people who want to support others. For example, how do you start a conversation when you notice that someone is struggling? We will also teach the participants to guard their own borders. Sometimes it is better to refer someone to a specialist. You should avoid getting too carried away with the problems yourself.’
Surprisingly, during the first lockdown, students sought support less often than usual, says De Kiewit. ‘At that time, the thought was: everyone is in the same situation, it will be fine in a while.’ This seems to have changed somewhat now, the researcher says. ‘But even now, there are still many students who do not raise the alarm. I even heard from the Student Union that students ask them when their problems are serious enough to seek help.’
According to De Kiewit, there is a simple rule for this. 'Everyone feels bad sometimes, but if you can't change this feeling anymore, you should look for help via your study advisor, student psychologist or doctor. During this crisis it was often said: take care of each other. I would like to add that you should also take good care of yourself.’