Are students less lonely thanks to Nadine Dorries?

Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, knows that people who felt lonely before the pandemic are likely to continue to feel this way even without restrictions in place.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

On Wednesday, the (Westminster) government published her department’s third annual report on its “Tackling Loneliness” strategy. In it she says that tackling loneliness has remained — and will continue to be — a priority for this government.

So how has that priority panned out for students?

The report particularly highlights findings from the ONS Student Covid-19 Insights Survey – for example a year ago we discovered that more than one in four students feel lonely “often or always”.

The report notes that students in higher education can be at a particular risk of loneliness, especially when starting their course, and this can lead to greater feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and poor mental health.

You might remember that back in October 2020 I noted that support for students comes “horizontally” (friends, family, course mates, societies) and “vertically” (academics, support services etc). And it can be accessed on a “pull down” or “proactive push” basis. I also noted that lonelier than usual students would be at particular risk of not getting horizontal support and that you can’t really replace that with vertical support.

Anyway, to address this in the report there’s then a line that says

The Department for Education (DfE) has worked with the Higher Education (HE) sector and other government departments to share sector-led tools and resources which support students with the transition to HE”.

That’s news to me. I’m happy to be corrected, and if I’m wrong I’ll say so, but I think that’s an outright lie.

If anyone has seen these resources in the wild, for example, do get in touch.

It does sound like the late-running and spectacularly fruitless student mental health and transitions project, the sorry story of which I documented on the site a few weeks ago.

The other solution on students and loneliness in the report was as follows:

DfE has worked with the Office for Students (OfS) to provide Student Space, a mental health and wellbeing platform designed to bridge any gaps in support for students arising from COVID-19. This resource provides dedicated one-to-one phone, text and web chat facilities as well as a collaborative online platform providing vital mental health and wellbeing resources.”

So to tackle student loneliness – which by the way in our research appears to directly lead to the sorts of poor outcomes that DfE is currently “cracking down” on via OfS – the (only) solution was to invest in a (vertical) mental health platform that allows lonely students to send SMSs to people they’ve never met, and will never meet.

Student Space has a specific section hosting resources focussing on friendships and social life.”

Well that’s OK then.

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