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UK Student Wellbeing

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Review of online panel discussion, Thursday 19 August 2021

Prof Judyth Sachs chaired this panel discussion on student wellbeing in the UK. Four senior leaders from the HE sector completed the panel; Jon Baldwin from Jisc, Prof Christina Hughes who founded Women-Space, Alison Golden from the University of Bristol and Kerry Kellaway, head of the library at Plymouth Marjon University.

During the pandemic many students described their wellbeing as poor/very poor. The panel discussed how students and staff could first be supported and then encouraged to thrive over the upcoming academic year.

Most of the panel had first-hand experience of managing the pandemic and making strategic changes for their institutions and the sector, with student wellbeing being the core of most of their focus.

The panel looked at how they themselves had coped during the crisis and what they had learnt about resilience in themselves and others. There was a general consensus that the crisis had forced through changes at an unprecedented pace and many people had stepped up and gone beyond in their response to ensuring that students had an agreeable learning experience. There was concern among the panel that as colleagues were approaching burnout and another lockdown in the autumn/winter months would have an adverse impact on the wellbeing of staff and students.

Kelly stated that the new flexibility that had been adopted should be seen as an opportunity and not a threat. Many of her students appreciated access to blended resources and wanted a hybrid style of delivery to remain.

The panel then discussed what they would advise HE executives in regards to student wellbeing. They agreed that there was a greater appreciation among the senior leadership of the sector of how diverse their students are and the additional demands such as carer responsibilities that is placed on them. The panel also agreed that while the narrative of the mainstream media is that blended learning is poor value for money, it would be difficult for senior leadership to advocate changes to more digital solutions long-term. However, Jon could see changes happening where digital strategies were being requested by senior leadership. His advice would be to invest short term, but think long term.

Alison commented that students are not a homogenous group but have very different experiences and needs. She found through talking to students that what many missed was a sense of belonging and connection. Christina echoed her views in that building a community was important for student’s wellbeing and understanding their stresses was part of the challenges exposed by Covid.

Judyth closed the discussion by repeating a comment she heard from a participant to a webinar she had recently listened to which she felt captured the sector’s response to the pandemic – think big, act small and move quickly.