Student welfare tracked at Leeds

January 19, 2001

Students living at home are far happier than their friends in university halls, while students living in flats are the most dissatisfied of all, according to a pilot survey of almost 2,000 Leeds students.

Psychologists at Leeds University hope to collect details about the wellbeing of thousands more undergraduates during the next three years for a major survey of the highs and lows of university life.

The anonymous survey will track individual students' psychological welfare before and during their studies, and it will identify which factors are most closely linked to happiness.

Michael Barkham, joint director of the project, said the pilot survey had revealed a strong correlation between worry about finances and student wellbeing, although those students who established strong social circles could be cushioned from the worst effects.

He believes the survey will overcome weaknesses in conventional student satisfaction questionnaires, which he said are unlikely to highlight problem areas. Professor Barkham said: "We are deeply sceptical about the snapshot approach generally taken and believe our psychological survey produces far more meaningful results."

He said the survey will throw a spanner in the works for the many myths about life. "It is clear that there is great diversity in the student body and it is quite likely that students in some disciplines are generally happier than in others."

Student experience ebbed and flowed during the course of the year, he explained, and needed, therefore, to be followed over time.

Professor Barkham is questioning students about their wellbeing before their arrival at university as a baseline to his survey. "What we know is that the first few weeks are crucial in determining a student's wellbeing but, if we are going to make changes affecting the student experience, it is crucial we act not on assumptions but on firm evidence," he said.

The findings of the pilot survey show that three-quarters of students are concerned about finance and there was a strong correlation between the degree of concern and low wellbeing scores. There was also a strong correlation between students perceived level of social support and high well-being scores.

When questioned about accommodation, excess noise was most strongly associated with low wellbeing scores. Student perceptions of their own workloads varied considerably between different departments.

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