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‘Don’t spend so much money on a welfare app, but reduce performance pressure’

Students are suffering severe mental health issues. Therefore, Erasmus University has…

According to its Action Plan Student Wellbeing, the Executive Board was planning to spend 3.1 million euro. The most important priorities in the plan are the digital and physical student living room, an e-mental health app and support for students from employees and lecturers.

The university wanted to develop an app itself, as it could not find a comparable product on the market. According to the Action Plan, they were seeking ‘A coherent digital platform with a clear focus on improving the welfare of students and young professionals, together with in-depth evidence-based interventions to resolve psychosocial problems.’ In practice, the app uses algorithms to offer support at levels varying from general advice and online coaching to referrals to professional help.

Algorithms

According to the plan, the app will cost 1.1 million euro between 2020 and 2024. This includes payment to two university lecturers and three PhD students (1.4 FTE), which amounts to approximately 480,000 euro. The production costs amount to 625,000 euro. Partly because of the medical data involved, the app must be entirely GDPR-proof, which is one of the reasons for the high development costs. The intention is also that the app contributes to the scientific field of digital and other behavioural changes and mental health in young adults.

Members of the University Council were not satisfied with this proposal. According to them, insufficient research has been conducted regarding student acceptance of the app, and the student members of the council did not think that they would use such an app.  The council also considered the development costs to be extremely expensive. In an opinion piece, council member Armand Gozé wrote that the university should focus more on lowering the ‘extreme performance culture’ and less on expensive projects such as an app.

Student living room

Other parts of the Action Plan, such as the student living room and improving and centralising existing support, were supported by the council. The student living room is a continuation of the living room opened previously in Tinbergen building, in which multiple student organisations are already involved. According to the project description, the living room is a ‘non-commercial and freely accessible place on campus where students can relax, meet other students and where interesting activities and workshops are organised, enabling students to learn how they can maintain and improve their mental health’.

The plan is to relocate the living room, which has currently lost its physical space due to lockdown, from Tinbergen building to the ground floor of a new campus building in 2023.  The project will mainly focus on organising online events until the coronavirus crisis ends.

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