Number of students unhappy with academic experience surges amid lockdown – ONS

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

A growing proportion of university students are not happy with their academic experience – and nearly two in three have seen their mental health worsen since the start of the autumn term, a report suggests.

Nearly two in five (37%) students reported being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their learning, compared with 29% in November, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey.

The findings came as the majority of university students in England have been told to stay at home and not return to campus until at least mid-February.

A number of universities have taken the decision to continue with their offer of online lessons for the majority of courses until even later in the academic year amid the tighter coronavirus restrictions.

Student Covid-19 survey
(PA Graphics)

The survey, of more than 2,600 students in January, suggests that 60% of the students who travelled to stay with family or friends over Christmas have not yet returned to their university accommodation, while 40% have returned.

It suggests that a higher proportion of students (63%) have reported a worsening in their wellbeing and mental health since the start of the academic year, compared with 57% in November.

More students whose term-time living arrangements have changed since the start of the autumn term said that their mental health has worsened (73%), compared with those whose arrangements stayed the same (62%).

The average life satisfaction score for all students was 4.8 (out of 10) this month, which is lower than the life satisfaction of the general population in Great Britain (6.4) during the same period, the report says.

The survey, carried out between January 8 and 18, found that more than half (56%) reported being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their social experience since the start of the autumn term.

The most common reasons given for being dissatisfied were limited opportunities to meet other students (86%) and limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (85%).

Tim Gibbs, from the public services analysis team at the ONS, said: “The most recent data collected from the Student Covid-19 Insights Survey show a further decrease in students’ average life satisfaction scores, with almost two-thirds of students reporting a worsening of their mental health and wellbeing.

“These numbers are not surprising considering the new lockdown measures in place and the fact that many students have not yet returned to their university town or city.

“This is also reflected in the academic experience scores, with the number of students reporting dissatisfaction showing an increase since the last report.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), said: “As the regulator, we are requiring universities to be clear to students about potential changes to their courses, and to deliver high-quality alternative arrangements where face-to-face teaching is not possible.

“It is also crucial that universities and colleges continue to put robust systems of mental health and pastoral support in place to help all students with the difficulties they may face.”

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesman said: “Universities have spent significant amounts on providing mental health and wellbeing support online services – including online counselling and developing new services to identify those in difficulty and to meet new needs.

“Universities will continue to work hard to provide the best possible support for students, however they are seeing significant increases in demand for university-funded support services, which were already plugging the gaps resulting from the lack of NHS resources and funding.

“We are asking government to step up support for students. Universities need additional funding for support services in response to the additional demand and costs.”