Funding plea as student mental health nosedives during pandemic

Two-thirds of UK students say well-being has worsened since start of term, ONS reports

March 10, 2021
A student looking at her mobile phone
Source: iStock

Vice-chancellors have called for immediate increases in government funding for university mental health services, after the Office for National Statistics reported that two-thirds of UK students said their mental health had worsened since the start of the academic year.

The data, based on a survey of 2,759 students and published on 10 March, also sheds light on suggestions that many students have remained in or returned to their term-time addresses during the Covid-19 pandemic: 85 per cent said that they were still living at the same address as they were at the autumn term.

On well-being, the survey – conducted at the end of February – finds that 63 per cent of respondents felt their mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn term. One in three (33 per cent) reported being dissatisfied with their academic experience, and more than half (57 per cent) were dissatisfied with their social experience.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents reported feeling lonely often or always, compared with just 8 per cent of the wider adult population over a similar period.

Between surveys in November and January there was a significant deterioration in the average life satisfaction scores of students, from 5.3 to 4.8 out of 10; that has now improved to 5.1. But this remains well below the score for the general adult population, which stands at 6.4.

In response, Universities UK said that the government should provide targeted funding for university mental health services, and that ministers should deliver on the commitment set out in the NHS’ Long Term Plan to create dedicated services for students, including psychological support.

“Universities have worked extremely 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 meet new needs,” said Alistair Jarvis, UUK’s chief executive.

“However, we are continuing to see significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.

“The differing level of mental health support for students depending on their location remains a concern. We need a substantive focus on students’ mental health and well-being from the government, alongside student-facing NHS services to match the commitment made in the NHS Long Term Plan.”

Only 14 per cent of students said that they were living at a different address to the start of term, with 85 per cent still at the same address. Of those that had moved, the majority were living with parents or family members when they had not done so previously.

Of those who had moved, 43 per cent were planning on returning to their original address before the end of the academic year, while 55 per cent were not.

Only one in five students (21 per cent) said that they had moved between households for a period of two weeks or more since the start of the autumn term, despite being permitted to travel to stay with family or friends over Christmas.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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