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Student engagement and wellbeing: are they mutually exclusive?

Keeping students engaged throughout their time at university can be challenging for Students’ Unions. These challenges present differently, depending on a students’ year of study. For first years, students are exploring a new environment, getting used to living on their own for the first time, and balancing lectures, revision and a social life. While second, third and fourth year students are in a familiar environment, the increasing pressure to ‘do well’ in their degree can also be intense. These factors can often lead to disengagement with university life, and feelings of isolation.

We recently partnered with Mental Health UK to really capture ‘How [you can] encourage conversations around mental health and money on campus’. Mental Health UK says that “Financial and mental wellbeing go hand in hand.” With 1 in 5 people experiencing mental health problems also experiencing money issues. So, does mental, physical and financial wellbeing have to impact student engagement levels, or are they mutually exclusive?

Financial and mental wellbeing go hand in hand.

Mental Health UK
Student worried about balancing her wellbeing and engagement

Before we dive in…

What does student engagement mean to Students’ Unions?

Student Engagement can mean something different to each Students’ Union. Our definition is the pride students take in not just their academic success but in understanding the content and putting it into use in their everyday lives, as well as the degree of interest in SU run initiatives. Examples of engaging on campus include: attending lectures, getting involved with digital and IRL events, joining a club or society, frequenting visiting the SU building, and exchanging with SU social platforms.

Let’s take a look into ‘wellbeing’ as a whole

Wellbeing is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’ and this can come in multiple different forms. The types of wellbeing we will be focusing on in this blog are; mental, financial and physical wellbeing.

  • Mental wellbeing: This is determined by how an individual handles stress, relationships, and decision-making. It can be affected by multiple factors such as, our emotional state, life circumstances as well as how we function in life.
  • Financial wellbeing: According to Money & Pension service, financial wellbeing is about feeling secure in your finances, maintaining good spending habits and having a positive relationship with money.
  • Physical wellbeing: The ability to have and maintain a healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating. This ensures daily activities can be carried out without additional strain or stress to your body.

What causes a decline in wellbeing and does it result in disengagement?

Events, parties, lectures, clubs, societies (and so much more) are all part of the student experience and participating in these activities help to keep students engaged throughout the academic year. But, what are the possible causes of a decline in student engagement?

According to ONS, 37% of first-year students at university in the UK have symptoms of depression and anxiety which is drastically higher than the general population of those aged 16-29 (22%). These results were taken in a post pandemic environment, it’s clear that COVID-19 has had a negative long term effect on the mental health of first year students. This in turn, is likely to have had an impact on engagement levels on campus. Students have had to readjust to the ‘new normal’ of a post covid world after minimal socialisation, it’s become more daunting than ever for new students to navigate campus, lectures and make new friends. Fear not, keeping students busy on campus through an inclusive events programme encourages students to get involved, meet new people, and develop relationships with their peers and SUs, who they can turn to for support when they’re feeling overwhelmed, rather than secluding themselves.

One of the largest financial crises is on its way and no doubt you have already heard about it, the cost of living crisis. Our research of 1645 students has shown 78% of students are cutting back on non-essential spending and 57% are withdrawing from activities they would normally attend due to financial uncertainty, meaning student engagement levels are threatened. But, will the change in a student’s financial wellbeing have an effect on their level of engagement on campus? It doesn’t have to. Participating in campus life doesn’t have to cost the earth; our Campus Events packages give your SU the tools to keep students engaged on campus, whatever their financial situation.

With many students more cautious about their spending, gym memberships and organic, healthy food shops could be a few of the first things to go. Over time, this could take a toll on students’ physical and mental wellbeing. However, this is where sports clubs and societies can come into action, to promote healthy physical wellbeing habits. With many sporting clubs being significantly cheaper than a yearly gym membership, students have the ability to cut back on costs but maintain their wellbeing and engagement levels Supporting clubs and societies to effectively promote and retain members is more important than ever.

Student looking stressed at their laptop

So, is there a link?

Yes, there can be! NHS Forth Valley notes that the three types of wellbeing are closely linked: ‘a poor financial situation will have a direct detrimental effect on an individual’s mental health’ which in turn can cause physical symptoms such as loss of sleep which can impact one’s physical wellbeing’. Separately, all types of wellbeing can have a negative impact on students’ engagement levels and these chances are increased when all 3 are present, they all have a knock on effect on each other.

How can your SU go above and beyond for your students?

We’re on a mission to improve the student experience. As part of this, we’re here to help empower you to do more, giving you access to the tools and knowledge to minimise the impact events like the Cost of Living Crisis may have on students’ wellbeing and therefore engagement. We recently asked students who they trust to deliver financial wellbeing tips and advice. Here’s what they had to say….

  • 69% of students have conversations with their family
  • 43% trust their students’ union for guidance and support
  • 40% trust their friends
  • 29% trust charity organisations

Powering campus culture and enhancing student experience is what native does best, getting students engaged with a diverse lineup of events and experiences can help to eliminate isolation and keep students engaged through unprecedented times.

Is student engagement, financial, physical and mental wellbeing mutually exclusive? Our answer is no, it doesn’t have to be! Find out more about how you can protect your SU from price hikes and inflation and get in touch with our events team to discover how together, we can help students get through the cost of living crisis, without sacrificing their wellbeing.