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17th June 2021 | Education

Tackling student loneliness during remote education delivery

Addressing Covid-19 disruption to the Higher Education sector, Keith Tully of Real Business Rescue, discusses how tackling student loneliness can contribute towards your long-term success.

As the coronavirus pandemic ushered families into the safety of their homes to minimise transmission of coronavirus, university students were left with limited options during term-time, but to shelter themselves in their accommodation. Detached from the physical presence of family, friends, and university lecturers, loneliness posed as the next hurdle for higher education students.

The bustling social life associated with Higher Education (HE) created a support system for nearby businesses strongly reliant on student demand. In addition to eradicating income for retail, tourism and hospitality suppliers situated within the vicinity, the pandemic thrust financial challenges on the Higher Education sector following the mass shutdown of campuses.

Loading on to the adverse effects of Covid-19 on the HE sector, the surge in student loneliness is a direct product of the pandemic. As in-person learning is replaced with online teaching, the new norm contravenes the basic components required to enjoy a healthy social life. Paired with the legal duty to isolate and practice social distancing, the mental wellbeing of both undergraduates and postgraduates remains at serious risk.

Intervene, or risk reduced enrolment rates

As collegiate life takes a brief hiatus, creating a disconnect between students, the onus lies on the university to intervene by providing support, creative direction, and relief from loneliness. Failure to extend a helping hand could pose long term challenges, leading to a hike in dropout rates and further disruption to learning.

Your institution needs to have an official mental health policy in place as it is in your best interests to provide mental health support to students to protect lives, your reputation, and your commercial standing. We run through why you should empower university students through the provision of mental health support and how this can work in your favour.

Reintroducing students into a university setting

After over one year of online learning, universities have been given the green light to reopen but working from home remains the recommendation until social distancing is removed. Although selected students are thriving following the reopening of university campuses, a remainder may be struggling to adjust to life after the one-year pause.

Breaking away from anxiety and loneliness can be just as challenging as experiencing it for the first time. According to the Office for Students, full-time students with a declared mental health condition are less likely to progress into their second year of study, compared to full-time students with no known disability. This highlights the importance of increasing accessibility to such services during the isolated period of online learning.

Adapt online delivery to social circumstances 

The mental pressure of grasping life during the pandemic can inevitably lead to a deep sense of loneliness. As the university classroom now takes the form of student bedrooms and lounges, uniting students over online tuition sessions can provide a platform through which you can bridge connections in the hope to minimise loneliness. Although lockdown restrictions are slowly easing, the remnants of previous lockdowns remain as we surpass the one-year mark since the health emergency was declared.

By creating a safe online environment where students can freely communicate, socialise, and speak with openness, you can help reduce loneliness and increase student satisfaction. In a world of uncertainty, routinely clocking into an online session and warmly inviting conversation can create certainty in the lives of students, showcasing empathy and social responsibility.

Repercussions of a spike in university dropout rates

Investing in student wellbeing services can deliver much-needed guidance to students experiencing loneliness, such as counselling. Providing student-led services, online support and hosting support groups can extend different support mechanisms to students tackling loneliness.

Financial loss - Universities can charge up to £9,250 per year, so each dropout student enrolled on a three-year course could result in a £27,750 revenue loss. In addition to this, university-owned accommodation will also experience a reduction in income and on-campus shops

Damaged reputation - From a reputational perspective, a university lacking support for isolated students is essentially on the road to failure as such events can tarnish the reputation and deter prospective students from enrolling

A third of students drop out of university due to mental health, including loneliness. Covid-19 and the introduction of online lectures are likely to take a toll on these statistics if student mental health is dismissed.

The National Student Survey (NSS) score is instrumental for new students when selecting their university of choice. According to the NSS, the UK-wide census was completed by 4 million students, and in 2019, it had a response rate of 72 per cent. The NSS recently pledged to address new survey questions around student mental health and wellbeing provisions, following overwhelming requests from students.

Providing a secure and enjoyable environment can boast commercial benefits, in addition to complimenting a major milestone for students that will shape the next step in their academic journey and career. As the end of the pandemic is in sight, universities are urged to extend mental health support to students, as although education may be returning to normal, the mental state of students remains at risk.

About the Author

Keith Tully is a partner at Real Business Rescue, part of Begbies Traynor Group. Keith is a locally renowned, insolvency practitioner with over 30 years of insolvency and business rescue experience under his belt. He regularly contributes to a variety of publications to offer his unparalleled expertise in the world of company recovery.

The Group are instrumental in supporting the Higher Education sector, both public and private, during the coronavirus pandemic. As the Higher Education (HE) sector generates £95 billion for the UK economy and supports a workforce of over 900,000, the provision of such support is essential to stabilise educational providers in the face of the pandemic.

Working Together To Improve Student Health and Wellbeing 2021

The Covid-19 Pandemic has put significant strain on the mental health of students within higher education. According to recent Office of National Statistics research almost two-thirds (63%) of students have said their mental health and well-being had deteriorated since the start of the autumn 2020 term. 

The matter is at the forefront of the higher education agenda with the Government and integral higher education bodies including Universities UK and The Office for Students all issuing significant recent student health and wellbeing guidance and initiatives to best support students’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Working Together To Improve Student Health and Wellbeing 2021 will address the most pressing issues for the wellbeing and safety of higher education students’ that have emerged as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Join us to discuss the means of supporting students by providing, health, wellbeing and hardship support, assessing effective safety and wellness policies and protocols, and making sure that students have the technology and capability to access learning.

View the agenda and secure your place here.

Working in Partnership to Tackle Loneliness and Isolation

According to studies, feeling lonely has a severe effect on people's health, with proven links to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline and dementia. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have escalated loneliness and social isolation, with one in 20 people aged 16 and over saying they felt lonely between April and May 2020. This figure increased to one in 14 in April 2021.

Working in Partnership to Tackle Loneliness and Isolation will examine how local government, healthcare and voluntary sector organisations are working together to build a sense of community and connectedness to combat social isolation and loneliness.

Join us to hear from a wide range of organisations who are working together to build communities and support people both in rural and urban communities. 

Discover which interventions are the most effective and efficient at building social connections across different demographics and effective ways for organisations to work together to make a difference. 

View the agenda and secure your place here.

Article written by
Danielle Chapman

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