On Thursday, February 18, asap, in collaboration with the JFV Nijmegen and Frisse Gedachtes, organized a brainstorm regarding student wellbeing. A theme that is much debated and in danger of being compromised, especially in the current times. How do students feel in these times? What could Radboud University do to improve student wellbeing? During the theme evening, the following key issues emerged: help from the university, discussing wellbeing and the financial situation.
Help from the university
The offer of help from the university is there, but students still experience a high threshold. For instance in the case with the student psychologist. You first have to fill out a whole list before an appointment is scheduled and you get concrete help. It is also insufficiently clear with which problem/question you can go to whom. This requires a lot of (unnecessary) research on the part of the student. There are many paths, but it is unclear where everything goes. In addition, some students feel they are sent from pillar to post. The communication from the university is attentive, but could be sharper. Still, we notice that there is a lot of initiative from the university, especially since the outbreak of the corona crisis.
The presence of a mentor in the first year is experienced as positive by many students. The mentor is not only there to talk about study results, but also about integration at the new university and other issues that are involved in studying. After the first year the mentor is missing, so that this task (often) falls to the study advisor. A possible solution to this would be to extend the mentor trajectory for students who wish to do so.
Ambitions can cause stress. That is why some of those present advocate involving alumni more during and in addition to their studies. Besides the success stories, the lesser experiences should also be shared. The road to your dreams is not without obstacles and you learn from making mistakes.
There is also a lot that does work well at Radboud university. There are many sports on offer, the buildings are kept open as much as possible to study and courses such as mindfulness and yoga are offered. However, there is sometimes a lack of challenge. We notice ourselves that having a challenge at this time can bring energy and is good against boredom. This is where the university could do more by, for example, offering (free) one-month courses. This could then take place in small groups, so that you also get to know some new people. By doing this, you are not excluding anyone. In addition, here too, the university should encourage students to take these courses and make the offer known. However, care should be taken that this does not come across as too oppressive.
At the Faculty of Law, the study advisors sent all students an email asking how they were doing. They also indicated that students could drop by with questions and suggested certain initiatives, such as Frisse Gedachtes. Talking to an (anonymous) student can be experienced as a low-threshold. The personal approach of the student advisors was considered very pleasant and shows that they are involved. Student advisors at other faculties could send a similar email.
Although hard work is being done (behind the scenes) on a flow chart on the website where you can find the right help, for now it remains insufficiently clear where you can find the right help. Concerns remain that students cannot find the right help or are not given the right answers. However, this also remains difficult for the university. On the one hand, it has to be there for the students, but on the other hand, this also requires a certain obligation of effort from the student himself. Therefore it is important that (possible) barriers are lowered or removed.
Making wellbeing negotiable
One of the most important solutions to improve wellbeing is to make it discussable, for example with your friends. Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about your own wellbeing, but it is ultimately experienced as pleasant by many students. In today’s day and age, it is difficult to meet face-to-face and crawl back behind the laptop to talk after yet another Zoom meeting. Still, it is recommended by some of the attendees to make it more fun by playing an online game once in a while or by taking a walk outside so you have some variety. Sometimes it is also very understandable that you don’t want to talk about yourself with your friends; sometimes you feel that everyone is in the same boat and talking still leads to the same circular reasoning. This can be broken through by shifting the focus to the positive and thinking about what is still possible
One positive thing about the corona crisis is that students feel the topic of wellbeing is more open to discussion than in past years. The attendees indicate that it is now easier to talk about feelings in one’s own environment. It would be nice if the topic of wellbeing would remain on the agenda even after the crisis. It also emerged that students are asking more and more specifically how their fellow students are doing. Still, it is not obvious for everyone to talk about their own wellbeing/feelings. A considerable number of students trivialize their problems and experience a high threshold for asking for help. A possible solution to this problem is to lower the threshold by sharing positive experiences from one’s own environment or fellow students, for example by pointing out to someone that a student psychologist, study advisor or the confidant has helped you well. In addition, the university could share these stories (anonymously or otherwise).
Another societal trend that has had a positive effect on making student welfare a topic of discussion is (among others) the Black Lives Matter movement. Inclusion is higher on the agenda now than it ever has been, but that doesn’t mean we’re there yet. Many people do not feel sufficiently safe on and off campus. Through Safe Space Conversations, it should be easier to share experiences. In addition, more often the conversation should start with each other how the behavior of one person affects the other positively or negatively. Because the theme of inclusion is experienced differently by everyone, it is of great importance to keep talking and listening to each other, because this way you learn to understand each other.
Finally, a number of students say to pay attention to your fellow student. When you see that someone is not doing well, try to talk to that person, perhaps in a light-hearted way or by offering a listening ear. Seeking help is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Let them know that seeking help is not a weakness but a responsibility. Radboud University should encourage this.
The introduction of the loan system has put more pressure on students. Students are afraid of taking longer to complete their studies and of the financial consequences. As a result, they are becoming less or later active alongside their studies. Especially in the current times it is painfully obvious that many students have financial worries. Although there are financial schemes for students in need of money, the vast majority of the students present are not aware of these. In addition, Radboud University, as well as the many student organizations, should make it clearer that investing in your personal development is important to feel good. Any walkout does not outweigh all the great experiences and good friendships you gain and the personal development you go through.
Recommendations for the University
- Create a clear overview of student counseling;
- Offer students more accessible help (both courses and counseling);
- Offer more support to student associations and student initiatives, after all these are the places students can join in an approachable way;
- Continue to make student wellbeing a topic of discussion;
- Ensure social safety;
- Invest in a good alumni network;
- Offer mentoring not only in the first year, but also afterwards on a voluntary basis.
The university is doing its best to respond to student wellbeing, but there is still room for improvement. The group is doing its utmost to discuss this with the Executive Board and the relevant policy staff, and they will also take the points from the theme night on board. We would like to thank the JFV Nijmegen, Frisse Gedachtes and Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven, as well as all those present this evening, for their input and for thinking along. It was an informative evening where everyone has had his say and where much input is collected for the USR!