From wellbeing to study experience: what do EU/international students think?

“One in five EU/international students have still considered dropping out of university”

The UK Student Wellbeing Survey, an independent large-scale study commissioned by Studiosity, reported its findings in mid-June. This work seeks to add another important platform for students to share their voice, thoughts, feelings and expectations of study and university life.

From the research among 2,050 students, we can now share the findings derived from over 450 EU/international students at universities in the UK.

The main headline is the overwhelming majority of EU/international students (84% of respondents) feel the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their overall university experience, at least moderately.

Some 69% are greatly or somewhat concerned about not being able to afford to do so much socially, 64% by the prospect of having to pick up an extra job to pay the bills, and 59% about having to sacrifice their study time to do paid work instead.

Other cost-of-living issues emerging through our survey include not being able to afford the food shop (58%), not being able to afford to put the heating on and pay rent (54%), and not being able to buy necessary course materials (43%).

Despite the negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis, 86% describe their overall wellbeing as good or OK, and 58% say the pandemic has made them more personally resilient in dealing with future hardships.

In fact, 79% of EU/international students are confident in their ability to study at university level, 66% feel like they belong at their university, and 53% agree that there is a strong sense of community at their university.

However, one in five EU/international students have still considered dropping out of university (19%), and 31% feel stressed from studying constantly (more than twice a day) or daily.

Further issues emerge with the study experience. For example, 82% report they have had to study all night to get through their workload, and half of students say that struggling with study when they are alone (after class or when they leave campus) has made them think about quitting their course.

Some 29% have felt unmotivated or and 23% have experienced self-doubt when studying by themselves, and nearly a third of EU/international students (31%) believe that 24/7 online study support would help combat these issues.

The good news is that 65% of EU/international students are very likely or likely to choose the same university again and over two thirds (68%) found their university experience in 2021-22 in line with or better than their expectations.

Moving forward, 47% think it will be harder in the current climate to find a job after graduating, as the majority (67%) outline their intention to find employment after they have completed their studies followed by continuing on to further study.

So what does all this tell us? Despite the results suggesting that, as a result of Covid, students have developed their resilience and feel less stressed, we cannot be surprised by the negative impact that the cost-of-living crisis has caused students who are based in the UK.

What is clear is students are really feeling the crunch. To try to combat rising costs, students are picking up more paid work alongside their degrees which is reducing the time they have to study and socialise, as also reported by the Advance HE/Hepi Student Academic Experience Survey.

As a result, students are in need of 24/7 access to additional feedback and support, whenever and wherever they want it, when they are now burdened with extra responsibilities. What is encouraging to see is students are typically more resilient as a result of the pandemic and banding together to support each other emotionally and academically.

The overall UK Student Wellbeing Survey 2023 data tells us that students who feel supported by their university feel better about their wellbeing and are significantly less likely to consider dropping out.

For some students this might actually be the right thing – but for the ones that it isn’t, these results are another part of the puzzle that can help us to reflect student expectations and how universities can rise to assist students with more support, more inclusive treatment, and care for their personal circumstances.

There are many different influencers in higher education, from policy-makers to government and more, but as educators, we must make it a priority to not lose sight of who our students are.

We are not experts in their experience, their lives, their backgrounds, or their views so we must make learning from and about our students a priority in order to support them better.

Professor Judyth Sachs is chief academic officer of Studiosity. She was previously deputy vice-chancellor and provost at Macquarie University and pro vice-chancellor of learning and teaching at the University of Sydney.