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UK Student Wellbeing: what have we learned, and what can we build on?

Andrea Collings

Andrea Collings

Aug 26, 2021

“Invest for the short term, but think about where we're going to be in 2030"
"The flexibility of blending the physical with the digital has opened up opportunities that people previously never had before."
Studiosity’s UK Student Wellbeing Symposium attracted more than 150 registrations from within the UK higher education sector.“ Read on for a snapshot of the thought provoking conversation by a panel of experts from a diverse set of UK higher education institutions and organisations.


Opening remarks by Chair, Professor Judyth Sachs

UK Student Wellbeing_ a panel discussion - full recording - Studiosity Symposium 2021-high-1

“Our experience of covid over the last 18 months has certainly brought out the best and the worst in us. Universities as communities have responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone associated with them. It's no easy task to manage the various challenges required to ensure staff and students are safe physically, emotionally and socially. Today's webinar brings together a panel of experts from a diverse set of institutions and organisations. I'm confident that all of us will take away many messages and insights to help us in or at work as educators and supporters of students”.

"We don't know how long this pandemic will last or what its full effects will be, but we do know that it has forced us to grow in ways that may otherwise have taken us years. It's allowed us to create new flexibilities to support our employees and new tools to help us optimise. This situation presents an opportunity to accelerate cultural change and transformation and create resilience for the future, for us as individuals and as universities. The challenge has been in learning how to survive through this uncertainty. The opportunity is to learn how to thrive." (Forbes 2020)

Professor Sachs invited the panel to comment on this statement from Forbes and how it has resonated with their own experiences; to share their thoughts on how both staff and students can thrive; what they learned of their own resilience and that of their colleagues; and finally what messages would pass on to Vice-Chancellors. 

The following are a small number of takeaways from the 75min conversation - you can watch the full video here.

  • There has been a shift in the perception of power in the minds of students; following the exceptional quick pivot to online they are now making it clear they want more choice in their education and learning styles. 
  • Students are questioning the value of and want to be considered co-creators in their educational journey. 
  • In order to thrive we must alter the narrative that online = bad/poor value for money vs in person = good/good value for money. There are good and bad in both models - but we must not revert to whatever was the case in 2019. 

Screenshot 2021-08-26 at 11.19.01"In closing the library doors and closing the doors to the physical academic and library services, we've opened the online doors wider than ever. And Students have appreciated that and now are in a position where they can tell us what they want." Kerry Kellaway.

  • Digital has accelerated inclusivity. For some services, students have adapted quickly and appreciated the remote delivery which removes distance and cultural barriers, or issues with busy timetables.
  • Service offerings also need to be about choice: taking the newer online initiatives but having the traditional services available as well. 

“Flexibility has allowed us to keep pace with that demand, whereas perhaps our old practises that we were a bit wedded to, wouldn't have allowed us to keep up with demand in the same way.” Alison Golden 

  • During the first phase of lockdown, staff went above and beyond; whilst it’s admirable, it’s not sustainable. 
  • People are worn out. We have to find a way to move forwards systemically and student wellbeing must be looked at together with staff wellbeing. 

Screenshot 2021-08-26 at 11.42.06“We must all learn to switch off; working these enormously long hours is not sustainable. We must understand the stressors of both students and staff. Whilst flexibility is brilliant it does bring about its own challenges and demands which need a greater understanding.” Professor Christina Hughes

  • Students need to feel connected; have a sense of belonging and be part of a community, but there have been limited opportunities to do this over the last 18 months. 
  • We must now look for ways to build those opportunities for students to make connections with other students, staff, and the community where they live. 
  • John Baldwin referred to a Jisc report January 2021: Student and Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education.
  • Alison Golden shared a successful accredited course module which offers an embedded approach to contribute towards student wellbeing: The Science of Happiness.

“Not to reduce the whole wellbeing thing to just a just a word, because it's not, it's complicated, complex it comes from multiple backgrounds. But asking somebody how they're doing as standard is something that should be integrated into most services, regardless of what you're doing. Because there will always be a wellbeing slant, whether that's financial, or digital wellbeing, academic wellbeing. And just starting those conversations is so important for us working in HE.” Kerry Kellaway.

What did you learn about your own resilience and that of your colleagues? 

  • The importance of human connections and how this enables resilience.
  • How we have created rapid bonds and have developed a deeper and quicker understanding of colleagues strengths and vulnerabilities.
  • Despite a very emotional 18 months people have come together to get through it; the remarkable demonstrations of positive and student progression is a testament to both them and staff.

Advice to Vice-Chancellors

  • Acknowledge how bad things have been; recognise the work that the staff have put in and avoid spin.
  • Work out a way to establish the delicate balance of not asking staff to overpromise, but at the same ensuring student needs are met.
  • Invest in resources; now is not the time to try and save money.Screenshot 2021-08-26 at 11.26.59

“I'd be saying don't see this as a time to try and save money. This is a time to invest. Invest in resources, because we are going to need them, because I think the students coming through are going to need more support” Alison Golden 

  • Give staff the time and space talk freely about their own wellbeing and how the impact of the pandemic has affected their workload and personal lives
  • Model the behaviour that you expect your staff to take. 
  • Start a ‘say no club'- do not rely on staff burning themselves out or getting compassion fatigue.
  • Adopt a simple no emails before 9:00am or after 5:00pm policy.
  • Plan a ‘no meetings fortnight’ once a year. 

I remember early in the pandemic I was present when somebody said (I wish it had been me) 'we're not working from home, we're sleeping at work'.” John Baldwin.

  • Invest for the short term, but think about where we're going to be in 2030: what the learning and teaching and pedagogical landscape is going to look like; act and think strategically in your own context to give you the best chance of achieving that.

Screenshot 2021-08-26 at 11.43.34“We've got to get the basics right, got to get Wi-Fi right on and off campus, access to hardware and software. We've got to create more interactivity in the learning that's done online, whether that's quizzes, games, tests, small group work. We've got to make better use of recordings so that they can be watched again and again and at a pace that helps the learner. There's a staff development issue around the academy being able to use the online tools in pedagogically sound and inclusive ways; create opportunities for engagement to try and build in those informalities into the learning environment” Jon Baldwin

In closing

I'm reminded of a webinar that I listened to the other day and one of the participants made this comment, she suggested that you think big, act small, and move quickly. And to me, that really captured the way that we need to respond to the pandemic - think big, act small and move quickly”  Professor Judyth Sachs

Watch the full video >>>UK Student Wellbeing_ a panel discussion - full recording - Studiosity Symposium 2021-high (2)

With thanks to:

Jon Baldwin, Managing Director of Higher Education, Jisc
Alison Golden, Director of Student Health and Inclusion, University of Bristol
Professor Christina Hughes, Founder and CEO Women-Space Leadership; Honorary Professor, University of Kent; Visiting Professor University of Coventry
Kerry Kellaway, Head of Library, Plymouth Marjon University  
Professor Judyth Sachs (Chair), Studiosity Chief Academic Officer and former DVC, Macquarie University, Australia.


For the full Word transcript and recording: studiosity.com/studentsfirst


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