Lack of teaching help for students linked to well-being problems

Analysis of responses to major experience survey suggests teaching factors have bigger influence on mental health than student background

二月 13, 2020
Source: Getty

Students who say they have few or no helpful teachers at university are much more likely to suffer from anxiety and to have high levels of life dissatisfaction, an analysis suggests.

Such a relationship occurs irrespective of some other characteristics associated with greater anxiety and unhappiness, according to a statistical analysis of results from a major student experience survey.

For a paper published by the Higher Education Policy Institute on 13 February, Tim Blackman, vice-chancellor of the Open University, examined data on student well-being from the Hepi/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey.

Professor Blackman, a professor of sociology, found that there appeared to be a number of links between students’ background and high levels of life dissatisfaction and anxiety.

In the survey, different percentages of students gave scores indicating increased life dissatisfaction and anxiety depending on ethnicity; for example, black students were more likely than white learners to say they were unhappy, but the situation was reversed for anxiety.

And students who lived at home, came from areas of low higher education participation or worked long hours in paid jobs while studying were all more likely to report higher levels of life dissatisfaction.

Professor Blackman’s analysis also found that if students reported that teachers at their university had not been helpful and supportive, then a higher percentage had low well-being scores.

For instance, dissatisfaction with life was reported by 49 per cent of students who felt few or no staff were helpful and supportive, compared with 24 per cent of those who said all or most staff could be described this way. The paper says there were similar findings, although not quite as strong, when considering factors such as teacher feedback.

Once different variables were held constant, teaching factors appeared to have a stronger relationship with well-being than background characteristics.

After controlling for other factors, students who reported having few or no helpful teachers were two and a half times more likely to report a high level of life dissatisfaction than those who said all or most teachers were helpful. And they were 1.7 times more likely to say they had high levels of anxiety. Similar, but not quite as strong, results were also found for teacher feedback.

Professor Blackman writes that although he would not want to “downplay” the potential influence of student background, it was “noteworthy” that when this was controlled for there seemed to be “significant effects on both anxiety and satisfaction with life of students’ experiences of helpful teachers and useful feedback”.

“While we cannot rule out that as students become more dissatisfied or anxious for other reasons they may tend to report their teachers as less helpful or feedback as less useful, the consistent patterns found in these data suggest a well-being gain from improving teaching and feedback measures,” Professor Blackman writes.

Speaking separately, Professor Blackman said student well-being was often “seen through the lens of counselling and mental health support”, but the analysis suggested that it might be important for universities to delve into other factors that were under their control.

“Can some of the drivers of high levels of poor well-being among students be because of the way that we as universities and a sector undertake teaching and assessment?” he asked.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said the analysis “proves beyond reasonable doubt that there is a close link between teaching quality and student well-being”.

“Any institution that wants to raise its levels of student well-being should invest in teaching staff who know how to interact with students effectively,” he said.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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