Student joy poll reveals some home truths

June 14, 2002

Forget all-night parties and binge drinking. The happiest students live in their family home and drink modestly, according to a survey of 21,000 undergraduates.

The survey, thought to be the largest of its kind, was devised by psychologists at Leeds University to monitor the wellbeing of its students throughout their undergraduate years. Now being piloted among all first and second-years, the results overturn common myths about students.

"We believe this is the most systematic and professional means of finding out what students want," said Leeds pro vice-chancellor Harry Lewis, who said the survey delved much deeper into the student experience than traditional satisfaction questionnaires.

"Instead of a snapshot we are tracking individuals' wellbeing throughout their time here and we can make comparisons over time."

The survey found that students thought the family home was the best place to live, even though university halls were more sociable. David Irving, residential services director, said that this finding had been unexpected and had prompted a change in thinking.

"Small houses were thought to be most popular with students for the independence they offered, but the survey has shown this isn't the highest priority."

The university is considering disposing of its small houses and creating larger accommodation complexes.

Modest drinking and a network of good friends were also important. Most students said social support networks were a major contributor to their happiness.

Money worries had an effect on wellbeing. The survey established that students in Leeds do an average 14 hours of paid work during the week and seven hours at the weekend.

"The survey doesn't gather concrete facts so much as how students perceive things," said Michael Barkham, co-director of the survey.

"All the information provides us with a better understanding of the student experience."

The challenge would be to ensure the results were taken on board so that changes could be brought about where they were really needed, he added.

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