John Blanshard is Student Experience Director for Unite Students
Josephine Hansom, Director of Youth Research at Youthsight has eloquently and powerfully told the story of this current generation of students as ‘Generation Consequence’: a transitional generation that is highly focused on the long term consequences of all their choices, and consequently may experience stress and isolation.
The insight had a profound impact on our understanding of what students may want from their accommodation and wider experience.
The Unite Students Insight Report conducted by Youthsight and YouGov, builds on this understanding of the present generation of students. Reassuringly, we found that most students are happy: around three-quarters were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives. However, we were alerted both to the particular challenges for specific demographics: those from the D and E socioeconomic groups and particularly those with a mental health condition.
Base=All students (6504)
We also saw the extremes of the challenge faced by a minority of students – those frequently experiencing loneliness, isolation or even shame. This is something we have seen within our accommodation with increased welfare issues across the UK.
Base: All students (n=6,504)
Although every student story is unique, there are some common traits and factors shared by many of the most unhappy students which, more positively, suggests ways in which these students can be supported by their university, accommodation provider and others.
In my previous role with Unite Students, I oversaw nearly half of its accommodation – about 22,000 beds, and during this time experienced some of these stories first hand. We have inevitably come across students facing difficult situations, including a spectrum of mental health issues.
I particularly remember a Chinese student who was especially troubled, was away from her support network and in an unfamiliar culture. She was extremely vulnerable, and an experienced member of our student services team took the time to understand her situation; we rehoused her in a new and comforting environment supported by other female Chinese students and provided her with practical support. During this time, the team member took the initiative in giving the confidence and emotional support that she needed to seek specialist help through a very difficult time.
Accommodation provides fundamental human needs around safety, security and comfort, and yet it can sometimes be in this accommodation that these difficult experiences take place. However, I believe it can also be the place in which they can start to be addressed. It can offer a safe space where support can be given to seek out the right professional help. Our experience suggests that this very practical approach can restore a basic sense of stability, from which troubled students begin to rebuild themselves.
Moreover, the research shows that those students who are most in need of specialist support are among the least likely to seek it out, so creating a stable environment and having an experienced listening ear are all the more important.
I am encouraged by the research findings and excited about how we can use them, and even more so by the opportunities to provide the sector with data and insight that can support a wider response. For me it will inevitably come down to the many personal, individual situations in which we can make a lifelong impact on another young person, full of potential, to enjoy wholly more positive outcomes through the part that we play in their lives.
The Unite Students Insight Report was published on 31 August 2016. This article is part of a series inspired by the report and the wider dataset.