More than half of university students say mental health and wellbeing worsened over term, ONS survey suggests

One fifth of participants say it was ‘much worse’ by late November

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 09 December 2020 19:19 GMT
More than half of students in a ONS poll said their mental health and wellbeing had deteriorated over the last term
More than half of students in a ONS poll said their mental health and wellbeing had deteriorated over the last term

More than half of university students said their mental health and wellbeing had deteriorated since the start of the last term, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey.

More than one fifth of participants said it had got “much worse” when asked towards the end of November.  

In total, 57 per cent of students polled in the ONS survey said their mental health and wellbeing had worsened to some degree since the start of the autumn term. 

Students are significantly more anxious than the general population of Great Britain, with mean scores of 5.3 compared with 4.2 respectively, where 0 is "not anxious at all" and 10 is "completely anxious", the report found.

Meanwhile, more than half of respondents to the ONS survey of more than 2,000 students in England were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their social experience over the first months of the academic year.

Universities welcomed students back on campus from September, with many offering a mixture of online and in-person teaching as courses adapted to the coronavirus pandemic, and some pushing even more classes online during term over local coronavirus cases. 

Government guidance told universities to push all teaching online from early December as students returned home for Christmas during the suggested window, and to offer courses online for students not returning until 25 January earliest as part of the staggered return

The ONS survey - which carried out between 20 and 25 November, found that 51 per cent of students said they are likely to request a refund of some or all their tuition fees if all university teaching is carried out online from January.

More than half also said their academic experience would be negatively affected if all university lessons went online from the new year.

Students have 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. 

The Independent previously reported on a law firm being “inundated” with calls over the past term from students unhappy with their tuition fees amid coronavirus disruption.

Overall, the ONS poll suggested that 29 per cent of students were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the learning experience or academic support they have received since the start of the autumn term.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said: "It would be interesting to see who students would attribute this dissatisfaction to and whether they believe universities could have offered a better experience or whether it was inevitable that this term was going to be unsatisfactory, due to the pandemic."

She added: "Clearly supporting student mental health, which was already in decline before the pandemic, is going to be critical as we move through and beyond this pandemic. Addressing this will need to be a joint effort between universities, wider mental health services and will require well-funded services."

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), said: "Whether teaching is delivered in-person or not, students should still expect a high-quality academic experience, particularly as learning moves entirely online ahead of the Christmas break.

She added: "Throughout the pandemic, we have been actively monitoring the quality of provision at universities and colleges in England and we will continue to do so."

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: "All universities are committed to providing a high-quality and engaging educational experience for their students - including social activities where permitted under local and national restrictions.

The spokesperson for the body, which represents 140 institutions, said: "We understand this may not be the university experience which would be delivered in a normal year, but this is not a normal year and universities are investing heavily in Covid-19 safety measures, enhanced digital learning platforms, and additional learning and wellbeing support."

Additional reporting by Press Association

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in