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Students more stressed if they don’t feel like they belong at their university, amid call for greater access to peer mentors

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The number of UK students who feel constantly stressed almost doubles when they also feel like they don’t belong at their institution, according to research by YouGov and Studiosity (@studiosity).

In the second edition of the Student Wellbeing Survey 2024 released today, the majority of students (33%) reported feeling stressed weekly. Among 2,422 UK students surveyed, a further 21% said they were stressed daily and 18% constantly i.e. more than twice a day. The study found that female students aged 18-33 are more stressed across all frequencies, and more noticeably stressed constantly (22%) compared to their male counterparts (12%). 

When asked, the majority of students said they are stressed due to not having enough time to balance other commitments (29%) and prepare for exams and assessments (22%). 22% of 18-25 year old male students identified difficult course content as being the primary cause of feeling stressed about study. 10% of international students cited sticking to rules around integrity and plagiarism as the primary cause of being stressed about study, compared to 5% for their domestic student counterparts. 9% of students said that paying for their degree/study was the main reason for them feeling stressed.

“With seven out of ten students in employment – and nearly one quarter of all students working full-time – it is not surprising to find that the biggest cause of study stress is time pressures, significantly over and above financial pressures,” commented Isabelle Bristow, Managing Director for UK and Europe at Studiosity.

“Students are clearly struggling to balance their studies with exam and assessment preparations and their other commitments. There were many additional free-text comments from students on stress/study stress, including frequently around home/work/life balance pressures, the volume and pace of course requirements, preparation time, study support provision, perceived inconsistencies in marking, and physical and mental wellbeing issues.

“To support students whenever and wherever they are making the time to study, university leaders may therefore look to improve the availability of support outside of core university hours.”

Significantly, the number of students that are stressed constantly rises when they feel like they don’t belong in their university (30%), compared with students that also feel stressed constantly but do feel like they belong (16%). Overall, 61% of students said they feel like they belong in their university, compared with 20% who said they did not. 18-25 year old students feel like they belong the most (67%) in their university community.

“Being able to connect with peers and be part of the academic community is a critical part of university life and a facilitator of student success and wellbeing, with personalised peer mentoring correlated with lower reported stress,” Isabelle said. “Yet the survey also reports that 69% of UK university students do not have access to a senior student mentor, suggesting that leadership can turn their attention to scaling the benefits of peer mentoring to first-year cohorts. Access to student mentors can reduce stress.”

When asked, 40% of students would like to have access to a senior mentor. Almost three quarters of all female students (73%) don’t have a student mentor, yet 42% would like one. Whilst the percentage of male students that do not have a mentor is lower (62%), their need deficit (26%) is only slightly lower than their female counterparts need deficit (31%). 57% of international students would like a mentor. This creates an 11% need deficit from those international students that actually have one. Meanwhile, 52% of students that are constantly stressed would like to have a senior mentor.

The UK survey representing 149 higher education institutions was part of global YouGov research among 10,189 responding students, which also spanned Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Singapore and the UAE.

Other key global findings include:

  • Most students reported experiencing stress most commonly on a weekly basis (30%), with Australia and the UK slightly over-indexing (both 33%). However, in the USA, a significantly higher percentage (25%) felt stressed daily, along with Canada (26%).
  • The top three reasons for study stress varied by country, with ‘not having enough time to balance other life commitments’ being significantly higher in Australia (67%) and the UK (66% overall), whilst in Singapore, ‘difficult course content’ dominated (59%). In the UAE, ‘managing more responsibility on my own’ was the most stressful (48%), and the USA also over-indexed on this statement (41%).
  • Most students do not have a mentor, and just under half would have liked one. When they started their degree, students in the UK (22%), Australia (23%), and New Zealand (23%) found asking other students questions more difficult compared to other regions.

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