UK students among most likely to say mental health has suffered during Covid

Only three other countries have higher figures in survey of more than 20 countries

Zoe Tidman
Friday 26 February 2021 16:54 GMT
Outbreaks erupted on campus after students returned last term
Outbreaks erupted on campus after students returned last term (Getty Images)

British students are among the most likely to say their mental health had worsened during the pandemic, according to a new international poll.

The UK also had one of the highest proportion of students saying they were unhappy in the survey of undergraduates from 21 different countries.

Seventy per cent of the British students polled said their mental health has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Only three other countries had a greater proportion of undergraduates saying the same, with the figure at 76 per cent in Brazil, 75 per cent in the US and 73 per cent in Canada.

On average, 56 per cent of students said they had struggled with mental health during the pandemic out of all countries looked at in the Global Student Survey commissioned by, the nonprofit arm of education technology company Chegg.

Meanwhile, 18 per cent of the British students polled disagreed with the statement “in general, all things considered, I feel happy”.

Only Turkey, where 29 per cent disagreed, and the US, where 20 per cent, had higher unhappiness scores for undergraduates surveyed between mid-October and mid-November last year in the global poll of around 17,000 students.

As universities welcomed back students amid the coronavirus pandemic last term, outbreaks erupted on campuses and many saw classes pushed online as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, on top of national and local coronavirus restrictions.

Students told The Independent they thought they should get some money off their tuition fees this year, as the pandemic had fundamentally changed their university experience. 

In a separate survey last year, more than half of university students in England said their mental health and wellbeing deteriorated over the course of the last term.

More than one fifth of participants said it had got “much worse” when asked towards the end of November, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) poll.

Both surveys were conducted before most students were told to stay where they were in early January – while many were still at home for the Christmas holidays – as courses went online amid lockdown.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said about 40 per cent of university students in England will be able to return for face-to-face teaching from 8 March, when those on practical courses are allowed to return.

But for all remaining students, the government said it will review options for pupils to return to face-to-face lessons by the end of the Easter holidays.

Universities UK (UUK) said: “Universities understand that this is a difficult time for many students and have worked hard to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities and developing new services to identify those in difficulty and to meet new needs.

“Universities will continue to work hard to provide the best possible support for students, however they are they are seeing significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.”

UUK, which represents more than 100 institutions, called for “further focus” on supporting student mental health from the government.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “We recognise the toll that the pandemic can take on students, and protecting their mental health and wellbeing continues to be a top priority.

“The universities minister has convened a working group of representatives from the higher education and health sectors to specifically address metal health, and has urged vice chancellors to prioritise providing adequate, accessible wellbeing support.”

Universities can access up to £256m to use towards mental health support this academic year, and the Office for Students has been asked to put an extra £15m towards student mental health, on top of the £3m that funds mental health platform Student Space, they said,

The DfE spokesperson said those struggling with mental health can find support with Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign and local NHS trusts, which provide dedicated 24-hour support lines.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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