The coronavirus measures had a major impact on students and teaching. Student surveys during the pandemic revealed that the well-being of large groups of students plummeted in 2021. A lack of in-person education and contact with fellow students and lecturers led to loneliness, lack of motivation, stress and depression.
Student well-being under pressure
Research by the university found that a quarter of students are in ‘poor health’ and suffer from stress, frustration and sadness. The negative impact of COVID-19 on well-being had no repercussions on study progress, according to the figures for the past three years. Generally, the figures for 2021 are even slightly better, which does not alter the fact that individual students performed worse because of the pandemic.
A report published in the spring found that 42% of students were satisfied with the quality of education and 24% of students were unsatisfied. Study structure and motivation proved challenging for most students (60% and 45%, respectively). In terms of equipment (laptop, home workspace, fast internet), almost 75% of students were well-prepared for online education; 11% did not have sufficient access to these facilities. Online education calls for a different study approach, and not all students are comfortable with that. 23% of students had difficulty planning, 45% found it difficult to concentrate on their studies at home, and 12% struggled to study independently. 37% of students who studied at Radboud University last year spent (considerably) less time on their studies this year; 34% spent more.
Rector Magnificus Han van Krieken: “Although some students do well with studying mostly from home and even sometimes enjoy it, many students have difficulty in structuring and planning their studies and in paying attention to them. That’s why student well-being is our highest priority.”
Our coronavirus measures for students
To relieve some of the financial burden from students, statutory tuition fees were halved in the 2021–2022 academic year. The university was compensated for this through government funding. The university was also able to take steps thanks to the Nationaal Programma Onderwijs (NPO; National Programme for Education), which enabled the use of additional resources for research and education. Implementing this support programme for recovery and perspective of researchers at the university was the responsibility of the Academic Affairs division, in close cooperation with the faculties and institutes.
Several faculties took extra measures during the year. For instance, at the request of student board members, the Faculty of Science set up a programme for coaching in small groups. To promote the bond with the study location, a ‘Virtual Huygens’ was set up online. Another example is the new student mentorship programme at the Faculty of Law: 45 senior students lead groups of nine first-year students and organise weekly meetings to talk about the study programme and promote contact between students. The faculty also now has a lecturer mentorship programme: each lecturer, from junior to dean, takes five students under their wing for quarterly personal discussions of at least half an hour about study progress and well-being.
One campaign that reached the entire campus was the organisation of Wellbeing Week in 2021. Another initiative in the spring was Radboud Walks, in which students were randomly paired with a buddy for a walk across campus. Board members also joined in. Furthermore, the Lockdown Lift-up campaign was launched on Instagram, and there was a ‘hackathon’ to bring new plans to the table, with funding from the Radboud Student Fund for the best idea. The winner was the Dare to Fail initiative, which, with the magazine Prutswerk, advocates the acceptance of failure.
New on campus: Student well-being coordinator
The alarming reports about student well-being motivated the university to appoint a student well-being coordinator. In January 2021, Hannah Markusse became the first person in this position on campus. This was not solely a response to the pandemic; the first signs of declining student well-being date back to 2017.
In line with the national vision on student well-being from the Universities of the Netherlands (UNL), Markusse is drafting Radboud University’s mission statement on student welfare. She has also contributed to creating a direction indicator to help students find the right information desks for their problems. “We are mapping out the entire process better”, Markusse explains. “The cumulative effect of the worrisome signs made it clear that we really had to do something about student well-being. Although all kinds of initiatives were being developed, it remained fragmented. This new position was created to provide more coherence.”
“The cumulative effect of the worrisome signs made it clear that we really had to do something about student well-being.”