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Almost 50% of Students at UK Universities Feel “Exhausted and Lonely”

Photo by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

A new report by the UPP Foundation shows that almost half of students are disenchanted with academic life, with financial struggles adding to their problems.

A “concerning number” of university students face loneliness and declining mental health, according to the report. Polling found that over a quarter of students would not feel comfortable contacting their university if they were dealing with mental health problems, while almost half of students said they felt lonely at university.

The findings are part of a follow-up study to an initial report published two years ago by the UPP Foundation Student Futures Commission, designed to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students.

The latest report saw over 1,600 students polled and included results from eight focus groups conducted at a variety of universities across the UK, as well as eight interviews with their senior leadership.

There were some positive aspects to the report’s findings, which suggested that in the two years since the pandemic some aspects of the university experience had improved, with students generally feeling better prepared for work after graduating.

However, the report highlights that the “lost learning crisis” that resulted from the pandemic has been replaced by a “cost of learning crisis”, as both students and institutions are struggling financially due to the cost-of-living crisis, inflation, and frozen tuition fees. This is having a knock-on effect on the overall university experience for a growing number of students, as well as taking a toll on mental health and the ability for universities to deal with these problems.

“The deterioration of government support for universities and students – political and financial – is putting at risk a generation of talent that is sorely needed to uphold a healthy society, a growing economy and the challenges of the technological age”, says the report.

But disenchantment with university is particularly acute among those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and research shows that international students have been affected too.

A 19-year-old international student at a Russell Group university told one of the focus groups: “I’m only on campus for maximum two hours a day. So it’s just a very little part of my life, I don’t really feel like I belong there.”

The report’s findings also showed that the relationship between universities and their students was becoming increasingly transactional, with students going to university only to get their degree certificates, rather than engage in wider university life and extracurricular activities.

A male computer science student said: “I go to uni, do my work, and get out as quickly as possible…I don’t care about anything apart from getting my piece of paper at the end of it.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Richard Brabner, the UPP Foundation’s executive chair, said: “As a sector it is critical we tackle this – not only is it morally the right thing to do, but it also impacts non-continuation and will possibly soften demand if there is a cohort of graduates entering the world of work who are not enthusiastic about their time at university.”

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