Potential mental health crisis looms as most vulnerable students isolate ahead of Freshers’ Week 2021

Umii, a university-based connections app for students combatting loneliness and isolation, is warning against a potential mental health crisis among international undergraduates after research has revealed nearly three-quarters (71%) of students who have been forced to quarantine experience depressive symptoms.*  

As many as 389,235 international students arriving to study in the UK from amber or red-listed countries will be required to quarantine, the latter in a managed hotel at a cost of up to £2,285 for the full 10-day period.**

Quarantine could also be required for students arriving from countries whose vaccination programme is not approved in England, such as China. Students from China are set to make up more of the 2021 undergraduate body than all of the EU countries combined after the number of EU students travelling to the UK to study more than halved (56%) since last year. It is expected over 100,000 students will arrive from China to study in the UK this academic year. 

Beyond the financial burden it brings, quarantine has also been shown to harm students’ mental health, with a study published earlier in 2021 revealing that nearly two-thirds (63%) of university students surveyed reported that quarantine had a negative effect on their mental health, with 71% experiencing depressive symptoms.

 The prospect of quarantine is even deterring future international students, with the latest research from QS, the think tank and provider of QS World University Rankings, revealing that 75% of this 2021 cohort are concerned about their home country’s status on the UK’s travel lists impacting their ability to study here. 

This means that up to a third of prospective international students would delay coming to the UK to study, and 1 in 10 would cancel coming to UK to study if their country moved to the red list and quarantine was guaranteed.***

 Georgia Wheadon, founder of Umii, comments: 

 “It’s really concerning that nearly three-quarters of students who have been made to quarantine experience depressive symptoms and feelings of non-existence. 

 “Loneliness and poor mental health are undeniably intertwined – there has even been research showing that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It’s no small thing, and it’s incredibly important that these students are able to feel a sense of belonging by staying connected to their university community.”

 Alongside quarantine rules, some international students are also having to navigate universities’ unique policies – in some cases including the mandating of vaccination to live in halls or participate in sports and campus-based social activities.

This is worrying, Georgia explains, especially for overseas students who are already uniquely vulnerable:

“Even in so-called normal circumstances, international students struggle with suddenly being without their friends, family and support networks. Add quarantine and changeable travel lists into the mix, and this cohort faces many more obstacles and challenges when starting university. 

“University starts the moment a student confirms their place – weeks before they step foot on campus. It’s therefore vital that universities make a conscious effort to put measures in place to support these students, otherwise we face the real danger of a mental health crisis. Online social communities such as Umii can help give students the best possible start to university life and combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.” 

Georgia founded the university-based connections app Umii after she experienced loneliness and isolation during her degree at Leeds University. The app enables users to make connections with other verified students at their university based on their course, societies and interests, and is designed to help universities combat loneliness and increase retention and academic success.

Georgia continues: 

“It’s so important for students, especially international students and especially now, to feel supported in making the transition to university life – whether they’re quarantining ahead of Freshers’ Week, or more broadly speaking in terms of integrating into a new country, community and culture. 

“I know from experience just how overwhelming the initial few weeks at university can be, and therefore how grateful I would have been for an app like Umii that would have helped me make friends and feel heard and seen when I needed it most. 

“Universities cannot afford to neglect these groups of students – and not only for the students’ sake. As new analysis has shown, with just one year’s intake international education is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy every year – we must remember that.”

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