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GSA launches university student wellbeing research and makes call to action


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21 June 2018

GSA’s Student Wellbeing Matters study, which launched today shows student mental health is an international issue

Student wellbeing is not confined to UK-based students, says Global Student Accommodation Group (GSA) which today calls for a holistic view of the university experience to help improve and promote student wellbeing. The news comes as the student accommodation leader launched the findings of its international student wellbeing landscape study, called Student Wellbeing Matters at the Global Student Living Conference hosted by Red Brick Research at the University of Leicester.

In the UK, the Institue for Public Policy Research reported that almost five times as many students disclosed a mental illness to their higher education institution in 2015/2016 than ten years previously*. Another UK survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Higher Education Academy (HEA) in 2017 found a “clear decline year-on-year” of student wellbeing, with wellbeing measures showing decreases of between 2% and 3%**.

Student Wellbeing Matters draws together extensive research from across the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Australia to better understand how student wellbeing has evolved over the last decade. After analysing over 10,000 pages of evidence from more than 280 studies, reports and articles from the four territories, GSA and its research partner Red Brick Research have established several clear patterns that are prevalent across all the respective student populations.

The study, which cites The Philips Global Wellbeing Index (Germany), claims that housing is a key contributor to student wellbeing. It claims that student housing and staff are well placed to act in a signposting and ‘early warning’ capacity to other student services and can play a vital role in supporting early interventions and as ‘first responders’. In the UK, evidence from the National Student Housing Survey 2018 also shows that there is a significant correlation between accommodation and overall satisfaction with the university experience.

Professor Lindsay G. Oades, Director, Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne, Australia, said: “As student wellbeing rises on the agendas of universities around the world, this important study addresses the challenges and opportunities of university student wellbeing, including the contribution of the physical and social attributes of accommodation.

Student Wellbeing Matters is also cutting-edge in the way it explicitly addresses contemporary issues in wellbeing, drawn from current research in wellbeing science, positive psychology and positive education. The wellbeing and performance of our future leaders is of paramount importance. Society in general and universities in particular, need to take note of the importance of nurturing wellbeing literate students, who can both experience and communicate wellbeing.”

Bobbi Hartshorne, Global Head of Student Wellbeing at GSA, said: “We firmly believe that the right environment in which to live can make a real difference to students’ lives. Based on the research and insights we have gathered over the past 18 months, we have designed and implemented a unique student wellbeing strategy across our residences worldwide. We are pleased to see it is having a positive effect with the National Student Housing Survey 2018 reporting that 71% of our residents feel that our staff really care about their wellbeing.”

“We fully acknowledge that more research needs to take place and that we are at the beginning of a crucial journey for all involved, but if we’re to make a real impact, the housing industry must work more closely with universities and local communities to create the structural changes needed to break down institutional silos and deliver a genuine and integrated whole-institution focus on student wellbeing.”

“With this in mind, we extend an invitation to collaborate with any person or organisation that has the same ambitions as GSA to optimise the wellbeing of students.”

Key findings from Student Wellbeing Matters

 Known “stressors”:

  • Financial pressures
  • Academic stress
  • Long commute times
  • Social pressures – including making friends, leaving established support networks, living in close proximity to others
  • Concerns about employability/labour market competitiveness post-graduation
  • Balancing work and study
  • Housing problems

Key recommendations for a holistic view of the student experience:

  • Create networks that go beyond the boundaries of university geography and service provision and link the partners that influence the entire student experience.
  • Universities and student service providers need to invest in the skills and networks required to effectively signpost students across a wide spectrum of health and wellbeing issues to ensure that support is appropriate and proportionate to individuals. There is also an opportunity here for those who partner with universities (such as purpose-built student accommodation providers), albeit with the right training, to work more effectively with universities and healthcare providers to assist with better sign-posting and referrals.
  • In-residence community environments with on and off campus student accommodation providers recognising the additional challenges such accommodation presents to students. Private accommodation providers must work harder to provide a community environment where students are supported by an in-residence team and social activities and staffing structures can be designed to support students as they transition away from home.
  • Beyond basic services and features of rooms and spaces, the quality of accommodation design has a significant role to play in the health and wellbeing of students. Design factors should, therefore, be considered alongside the quality of services provided, in judging how well a development or building is likely to serve the wellbeing of its occupants, and (as established earlier) their academic outcomes.
  • There is an urgent need for large-scale research to be undertaken in collaboration with the further education sector (16 – 18 in the UK) to understand the pre-arrival social and psychological conditions that may predict or prevent the emergence or manifestation of mental health issues and other wellbeing challenges once in higher education.

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