Whether you are entering university as a mature-age student or fresh out of high school, we all want to know that we will be protected on campus and virtually. The transition of starting university can come with a lot of stress, and this might even occur for students who are well into their degree and returning to study after the semester break. Let’s spotlight student well-being and see how leading universities are facing this head-on.
Online and in-person flexibility
Often attending university in person can be a physical barrier, but it can also be a mental one. In our current post-pandemic climate, many universities are offering even more flexibility to students in their choice of how they receive content and complete their qualifications. By minimising the barriers to entry, students are supported in their mental and physical health. Now given that some students will find solace in the idea of being anonymous online, educators still have significant programs in place to ensure students still feel connected.
Student support officers
In addition to a student lecturer and tutorial teacher, students can also access support from a student support officer. These professionals have office hours on-site but they can be contacted virtually through video call. A student could engage this office to discuss deferring, how to get an extension, adjusting to student life and guidance on any physical and mental health issues that may be prohibiting their study.
Access to these student support officers is very easy by design, with online calendars where students can book time. There are also chat box’s on the student intranet with a selection of common queries so students can be directed to the right information and support. Other university intranets have rating icons that students can select to flag their mood and stress levels, with student support officers reaching out to students who have rated high.
Online groups and communities
Online groups and communities offer a safe environment for online students to ‘meet’ their peers and discuss the course curriculum and general university experience. Most universities will have these Facebook groups as private groups that are monitored by university staff, so that information can be communicated in case they miss any updates by not attending the physical university. These online environments are also a great way to engage a disengaged group, by sharing their experiences, both good and bad. More often than not, universities may find there are also other private Facebook groups that are formed by students.
Standing up against bullying
Any reputable university will have a policy around bullying to protect students from experiencing bullying. These scenarios can occur on campus and in virtual environments, so reporting systems must be in place so that students can alert the relevant management to investigate cases of bullying and implement the appropriate punishment or strategy. Standing up against bullying is more than just words on a website, it has to be reinforced by leaders, lecturers and through orientation and check-ins.
Another factor that needs to be considered when it comes to bullying is how it is reported. Students may feel more comfortable reporting anonymously for a range of reasons, and if this occurs between students and university employees, this is a more complex issue still.
Universities should comprise a mixed population, with diversity at the centre of the student experience. Universities offer leave and concessions for those with cultural commitments so that they can still honour their beliefs and community roles, without impacting their study. Beyond faith and diverse cultures, diversity is also about offering a safe place for LGBTQ+ individuals and people living with a disability. Groups and committees are often formed and managed by university inclusion officers, which shed a spotlight on areas that need to be improved, opportunities to further champion diversity, and create ambassadors in the university community.
This is an area where student representatives can be very effective, as they are studying at the university themselves and have a better understanding of the university and its potential issues. When students work with leaders in a committee format, this is when real change can be made as there are greater insights as to what can be done and what groups need greater representation. There are also actions that are taken at each meeting, to ensure accountability. Groups like this are even more important in online communities, as other students and lecturers may not have the visibility of who makes up their class and what cultural differences and considerations may be relevant.
Starting your university career or starting it again after a pause might have you feeling unsure about how your physical and mental needs will be met. Fortunately, there are many programs and initiatives in place to support every student, although there is always more progress to be made.