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Student Wellbeing Monitor: EUR students on the edge of depression and burnout

Things aren’t going well with EUR students, according to the results of the Student…

What strikes you the most in the results from the Student Wellbeing Monitor?

Marilisa Boffo: “The high levels of stress, anxiety and, in particular, symptoms of depression. This is also probably related to the high rates of loneliness. It is a vicious circle, because the lonelier you feel, the sadder you become. And then the sadder you get, the less you want to see people.”

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “Loneliness was definitely mentioned a lot. That has convinced me of the limitations of online education. A number of students find online education convenient and effective and want to keep it after the corona crisis. But I think we have to be very cautious about it. There are certain aspects, such as interpersonal contact and interactions, that simply cannot be replaced by online education.”

marilisa boffo
Marilisa Boffo Image credit: EUR

How has the corona crisis affected the outcome of the survey?

Marilisa Boffo: “Over the past few years, several studies have shown that mental health amongst students is worsening. So, the fact that the survey results are alarming cannot be attributed to the corona crisis alone. Look, that students experience a bit of stress, is fairly normal for the stage of life that they find themselves in. Your study years are a challenging period, a transition to adulthood. Corona has not caused all the problems, but it is making them worse.”

Then what causes stress among students?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “Aside from the difficult age they are at or the challenging period they’re going through, I do think that the excessive performance culture at the university plays a major role. We place too much emphasis on performance. For example, we have prizes for students who are able to complete two master’s programmes. Students feel under pressure to perform and compete.”

Frank van der Duijn Schouten
Frank van der Duijn Schouten Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

“This competition leads to less cooperation amongst each other. For instance, I know PhD students who are afraid to work together because they see their colleagues as competitors who might steal their potential results.

“This is why we should utilise these results to reflect on our education system. Of course, you’ve got to find a good balance. I lived through a time when getting an academic degree could last eight years. Back then, there were students who said: ‘What does it matter? As long as I’m having fun.’ That kind of attitude is not acceptable nowadays. But we definitely need to look for a new kind of balance.”


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And what can you do to mitigate this performance culture?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “I am a staunch proponent of the ‘recognition and reward’ principle. Setting a good example is also one of the most efficient ways to change the culture. I would like to see that our deans and deans of education, for example, no longer having to work in the evenings and at weekends.”

Because you’ve never done that either?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “Well, throughout my entire career, I consider Sunday to be a day off. So, my screen and phone are switched off then. People know that on Sundays, they won’t get an answer from me. It might only be one day a week, but I think that’s a good signal to start with.”

‘We will be taking risks to provide education on campus without restrictions because we see that students really need it’

Frank van der Duijn Schouten

How is the university going to help students with their mental health problems?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “We came up with the idea of hiring more student psychologists so that we can help students more quickly.  The results of the survey have confirmed that students do really need this help, which is why we have accelerated the decision to expand our staff here. The vacancies for this are being drawn up right now. As soon as we know exactly how many psychologists we are taking on, we will notify the students.

“Besides that, we are also preparing for in-person education in the coming academic year. We will be taking risks to provide education on campus without restrictions because we see that students really need it.”

The university has received a sum of money from the government to address issues surrounding students’ mental health. How is the EUR spending the budget?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “We have transferred most of the budget to the faculties. They are free to decide on their own approach, but we do emphasise that the faculties have to learn from each other. This is more productive than an approach dictated from the top.”

Marilisa Boffo: “Apart from that, we also have plans in place at a university level, such as creating one central welfare contact point, both online and on campus. We already have the Are You OK Out There? webpage on MyEur. We’re now working on a clear, integrated platform where all the support services can be easily found.”

‘If you are experiencing symptoms and you go and see your doctor, the first thing the doctor will do is to try and relieve the symptoms and make a diagnosis at the same time’

Marilisa Boffo

Don’t you think that with more student psychologists and a wellbeing platform, the university is tackling the symptoms rather than the structural causes?

Marilisa Boffo: “Well, if you are experiencing symptoms and you go and see your doctor, the first thing the doctor will do is to try and relieve the symptoms and make a diagnosis at the same time. If you don’t relieve the symptoms, the symptoms may get worse. Of course, you try to cure the disease, but the diagnostic process takes time and we have to start somewhere.”

What would you like to pass on to students?

Frank van der Duijn Schouten: “I would like to ask students to think about the difficult period that lies behind them. Not only to look at what you have missed and lost during this period, but also to see what you have contributed where the wellbeing of others is concerned.

“I notice that a lot of students not only take care of their own community, but also the wider community. For example, I know that a student association visited an old people’s home. They treated the residents to cake to show their support. It was a fantastic thing to do. I hope that students will keep on taking such initiatives.”

Marilisa Boffo: “It has been a tough year. But I would like us to stay positive: this will not last forever; things will get better and students will be able to return to campus. Keep having the courage to look to the future with an open mind and take good care of each other.”