Conducted by Hong Kong’s School of Graduate Studies at Lingnan University, the survey of international and non-local higher education students also found 70% “expressed concern” about the outbreak.

“Improved psychological support will also benefit students dealing with the pandemic”

Between April 12 and May 1, students from 26 regions across all continents bar Antarctica were questioned about their experience during the global pandemic. Some 46% of respondents were research postgraduate students.

Almost half of the respondents (45%) indicated they had experienced feelings of loneliness, while more than one in 10 (14%) said they did not know how to seek help in their study countries/regions if they were to develop Covid-19 symptoms.

Researchers highlighted that the high ratio of students collecting Covid-19 information from social media and new media was concerning, as information could be “inaccurate and exaggerated”.

Just 49.6% expressed “slight to great” satisfaction with teaching and supervision arrangements at the time of the survey.

Joshua Mok Ka-ho, vice-president of Lingnan University and the professor leading the research project urged universities to do more to help students obtain proper health information and learn about local social and healthcare support systems.

Improved psychological support will also benefit students dealing with the pandemic and future health-related problems, he said.

As international students may not be familiar with the medical service in the countries/regions they are studying in, universities should automatically provide systematic guidelines and information on Covid-19 outbreaks, he added, saying that HEIs should be prepared to “find creative and effective ways” of supporting students throughout the pandemic.

“Not only by email but with mobile instant messaging platforms or tailor-made mobile apps to maintain contact with students and provide healthcare information.”

Students relying on social media for Covid-19 information was “another source of anxiety”, Mok Ka-ho said, explaining that “inaccurate and sometimes, exaggerated” health information from those sources could likely lead to an “infodemic”.

The survey also found that 47.5% felt “at-risk” from the coronavirus, and a further 71.7% expressed “worry”.

As the research was being carried out, most students (61%) were still in their country/region of study and a “major source of concern” was the safety of their families.

Researchers said preventive measures such as social distancing led to the 45.2% of respondents indicating they felt lonely.

However, in more positive findings, 83.8% said they were keen to return to their current institutions to continue their studies despite worries about the pandemic and its effects.

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