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Trust & wellbeing crisis may be looming in HE, says survey

Wellbeing concerns are on the rise among staff and students in higher education, according to one new survey, despite many parts of the world slowing moving out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"They want connection, they want help, and they want therapy"

The survey – the Connected Student Report – was carried out by Salesforce, The Chronicle of Higher Education and research firm Ipsos. Over 2,000 students and staff across the US, the UK, France, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden Finland and Australia were consulted.

The report also found that trust between staff and students and their institutions is at a relatively low ebb because of inconsistent communication.

Around three-quarters (76%) of students indicated wellbeing as their most significant challenge, meanwhile 73% of staff felt the same way. 

An app enabling a student to find a quiet place to study was one solution cited

Within the report’s findings, there were various challenges to mental health and work-life balance cited.

Financial concerns were indicated by 74% of students. 65% of students mentioned difficulty finding a quiet place to work as a challenge to mental health, with other factors including childcare (44%), computer access (40%) and just over a third of students noted that they needed help managing their workload.

An app enabling a student to find a quiet place to study was one solution cited: students referenced several support options that their institutions could provide, also including more wellbeing-focused communications  and more online wellness support.

Asia Wong, director of counselling and health services at Loyola University New Orleans, commented: “These are big requests. They want connection, they want help, and they want therapy.”

Meanwhile, almost half of students said that the best way for their school, college or university to support them was to provide more flexible learning options.

Staff, meanwhile, felt the same way about flexible working schedules (45%). Work-life balance was a major concern for staff (76%), slightly above wellbeing as a separate entity.

While considering career outcomes, new business models for universities, flexible schedules and innovating for success, the report also uncovers that career pathways are front of mind for many.

In terms of career pathways, 49% of students cited career opportunities as the most important factor determining which institution they attend. Despite a reasonable level of satisfaction with their institutions for job interview and virtual internship preparation, nearly a third believe their institution needed to ‘offer more career resources in order for them to succeed’.

“Post-pandemic, students will push us more toward career preparation,” said Gilles Bousquet, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary French Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

“Post-pandemic, students will push us more toward career preparation”

“Is college worth the money? Sure, but there’s no question we have to build a stronger bridge not just to employment, but to careers.”

In terms of HEIs gearing up to meet this demand, over half of those polled are said to be offering additional courses involving digital skill-sets and half are strengthening their corporate partnerships.

One of the other key findings that ran through the report was a trust deficit between HEIs and their staff and students. 

The report states that “institutional communications and trust remain an issue for students…around 40% say a trust gap exists between campus officials and students and between leaders and staff”.

It went on to add that “nearly six in 10 students say the gap in trust between students and institution leaders is due to a lack of consistent communications; about half of staff agree.”

Overall, the report stressed just how much adaptation HEIs had made during the pandemic and how students felt confident to return, however, it provided a comprehensive to-do list for them too. 

Senior pro-vice chancellor for education at Cambridge University, Graham Virgo, believes that the fundamental challenge facing HEIs is a global focus on reskilling and upskilling.

“In the UK and elsewhere, institutions will need to ensure they are contributing to that in a way that is consistent with their own missions,” he commented. 

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