The relationship between students’ living environments and their overall wellbeing is a crucial topic that hadn’t been explored in much depth. Addressing this gap, the European Student Living Monitor (SLM) has emerged as a comprehensive research initiative. Launched in 2021 in the Netherlands and expanded to encompass a Europe-wide research endeavour in 2023, the SLM represents a pivotal step towards understanding the impact of students’ surroundings on their happiness and wellbeing. It offers a data-driven foundation for stakeholders in higher education and student housing to make informed decisions.
By Arunima Dey, Research Manager, The Class Foundation
I am the Research Manager at the Class Foundation, and I was responsible for the SLM project on a European level in 2023. As a former international student who experienced the challenges of loneliness and isolation during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, I understand firsthand the profound impact of a student’s environment on their wellbeing. In this article, I share with you the key findings from this groundbreaking research initiative that seeks to address concerns around factors that impact student mental health.
The European Student Living Monitor is driven by two guiding questions:
1. Do certain facilities and services enhance student wellbeing?
The quest to unravel the intricate relationship between the availability and quality of services and facilities offered to students and their overall wellbeing is at the core of SLM’s mission. It seeks to identify the elements that foster a positive environment for students, ensuring their holistic growth and mental health.
2. Who are the students with the best living Experience, and what drives their wellbeing?
Understanding what makes some students’ living experiences stand out is another key objective of the SLM. By pinpointing the drivers behind their wellbeing, we can uncover strategies to improve the quality of life for all students, making their educational journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.
The student experience
A total of 3,364 respondents spanning 40 European countries shared their experiences, revealing a mean mental health score (using the MHI-5 scale of 0-100) at 57. This figure, in contrast to the MHI-5 benchmark score of 60, suggests that the respondents’ mental health leans toward the lower end of the spectrum associated with robust wellbeing. The journey through higher education can be a turbulent one. Students often face numerous challenges that can impact their overall wellbeing, including:
- Loneliness: A significant number of students reported feelings of loneliness. This highlights the importance of fostering a sense of community and connection in student accommodation.
- Bullying and discrimination: Many students have experienced bullying or discrimination. This underscores the need for inclusive and respectful living environments.
- Limited housing choices: Students who felt restricted in their housing choices may not have found accommodation that truly suits their needs and preferences.
- First-choice accommodation: Those who couldn’t secure their first-choice accommodation may experience disappointment and stress.
- Financial worries: Financial concerns are prevalent among students, impacting their mental health and overall wellbeing.
- Lack of support: Students often struggle to identify where to turn for support, underscoring the importance of accessible resources.
- Key factors for improved wellbeing
The SLM identified key factors that positively impact students’ happiness and wellbeing:
- Engaged community events: Events led by organisations or peers contribute significantly to student wellbeing.
- Clear access to career and job support: Providing students with accessible career and job support services can enhance their overall wellbeing.
- Access to mental health services: Easy access to professional mental health services is crucial, as it can positively affect students’ mental wellbeing.
- Social and health facilities: Having access to amenities like gyms, pools, and social spaces can greatly impact student happiness.
- Financial support: Offering financial services and support can alleviate students’ financial worries and boost their overall wellbeing.
Policy implications and key takeaways
SLM findings provides a roadmap for educators, policymakers, investors and housing providers for shaping policies and practices that can create happier, inclusive, safe and supportive environments that nurture the wellbeing of all students. The SLM findings suggest that community, engagement, belonging, identity, and choice are fundamental drivers of student happiness. To improve the student residential experience, the following policy areas require attention:
1. Availability and choice:
- Understanding students’ housing expectations and making housing availability transparent is essential.
- Providing students with the ability to make choices empowers them and enhances their control over their living situations.
- Exploring methods to offer more autonomy and choice to students through platforms for multiple housing options.
2. Engagement for wellbeing:
- Building and nurturing a sense of community significantly contributes to students’ wellbeing.
- Student participation in events and activities is a crucial factor.
- Activities, including exercise and fun, have a positive impact on student wellbeing.
3. Inclusive community:
- Ensuring support for students from non-traditional backgrounds is vital.
- Combatting loneliness by promoting inclusivity and community.
- Providing resources and support to address conflicts and social problems.
4. Targeted support:
- Students with low mental health scores value and use mental health services.
- Collaboration with specialists and universities can enhance the impact of support services.
- Addressing financial hardship through actively promoted hardship funds can improve students’ wellbeing.
A call to action
The data gathered by the SLM isn’t just a collection of statistics; it’s a call to action. It’s a demand for change. It’s a blueprint for a future where wellbeing is at the centre of the student experience. As we move forward with the help of this research, we strive to create a world for students where they will part of a community, and supported when they find themselves in distress, financial or otherwise. We also must note that every student is different; students have different needs. While it might seem difficult to cater to all their varied needs, I am confident that we as a community of stakeholders from HEI to housing providers to city-leaders not only have the expertise to deliver this to our students, but also an unwavering determination.
The path forward
The SLM’s European inaugural year sheds light on the challenges students face and the factors that can positively influence their wellbeing. It is evident that a supportive and engaged community, clear access to critical services, inclusivity, and targeted support are key to fostering student happiness.
While the results are promising, our research team acknowledges that there is room for improvement in future iterations. By expanding the pool of respondents and refining the survey methodology, the SLM can continue to evolve and provide even deeper insights into housing providers’ role in supporting student wellbeing.
The SLM serves as a valuable tool for understanding the complex relationship between student housing and wellbeing. By acting on the key takeaways and implementing policies to enhance the student residential experience, universities, housing providers, and policymakers can contribute to a healthier and happier student population.
If the vision of the SLM resonates with your institutional goals and you wish to delve deeper, you can contribute to the forthcoming SLM 2024 edition. Please email me at email@example.com for collaborative opportunities. Your engagement can shape the narrative of student wellbeing in Europe for the forthcoming years.
Read the full report (available in English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German and French).
The Class Conference 2023: A reality check on student wellbeing
Join us at The Class Conference in Barcelona on 8 to 9 November, where we’ll be delving deeper into the subject of student wellbeing. Our dedicated panel, titled ‘TCF Happiness and Wellbeing Report: Student Living Monitor’ will be an invaluable opportunity to further explore this critical issue with panellists from Erasmus Student Network, The Social Hub, Diggit Student and Technogym.