Students struggling with anxiety, loneliness and depression

The experience of international students at Dutch higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic survey was conducted between December 15, 2020 and January 10, 2021. 

“These students have a smaller safety net in the Netherlands than Dutch students”

Some 357 international students enrolled at Dutch higher education institutions responded, telling researchers about their experience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than half of international students in Dutch higher education said that they often feel worried, lonely or bored. More than 40% said they suffer from feelings of depression.

“This research shows that international students are being hit hard by the corona crisis,” said Nuffic director Freddy Weima.

“These students have a smaller safety net in the Netherlands than Dutch students. That makes them a vulnerable group. We know that universities and universities of applied sciences pay a lot of attention to this, and this research underlines its importance.”

The report analysed the emotional life of students – asking them how often they experienced negative emotions (i.e. anxious, bored, depressed) as well as positive emotions (i.e. hopeful, motivated, joyful). 

More than half of the respondents said they often or always felt anxious (62.0%), lonely (55.8%), bored (51.2%), while slightly less than half of the respondents often or always felt depressed (41.8%). 

Some 35.9% of the respondents felt often or always hopeful, 32.4% motivated, and 24.7% joyful. 

The extent to which the students felt the following emotions while attending their classes and studying and preparing for their courses starting September 2020 (all respondents, N = 357). Source: Nuffic

Nuffic’s report notes that a survey taken back in 2019 into the experiences of international students found that 44% of the respondents experienced ‘very to extremely much stress’, and 40% experienced moderate to extreme psychological problems. 

However, the 2019 report also showed that the vast majority of respondents had experienced “very to extremely much friendship and happiness”. 

For this reason the authors of the 2021 Nuffic report concluded that among international students, negative emotions have increased and positive emotions have declined during the pandemic. 

The report goes into detail about the cause of students’ concerns – respondents were asked to indicate how often they worry about various (e.g. personal, financial) circumstances.

Some 68.8% of students indicated that they worry most or all the time about their future career. Study issues (lectures, seminars, practical work, exams, etc.) and future education were also a concern. 

How often the international students worry about the following circumstances (all respondents, N = 357). Source: Nuffic

Researchers also analysed the social lives of students. A large majority indicated being dissatisfied with their social life from September 2020 on (67.8% is either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied), with only 14% reporting being either satisfied or very satisfied with their social life (18.2% is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied).

Nuffic spokesperson Jeroen Wienen told The PIE News that universities of applied sciences and research universities throughout the Netherlands have various initiatives to tackle problems with student wellbeing concerns. 

“You can see a lot of cooperation in finding solutions; the solutions come from institutions, but also from students themselves. Institutions are pushing to make sure that students get the opportunity to be on campus and benefit from this,” Wienen said. 

“They have done an incredible job in making sure students are still able to study, on and off campus. Students are also finding creative solutions, just today I saw a new initiative from students that started a ‘Walk and Talk’, for students who want to meet new people in a responsible way.” 

“The solutions come from institutions, but also from students themselves”

Wienen explained that wellbeing also is a major topic in the ‘Nationaal Programma Onderwijs‘ (National Program Education), a new plan to eliminate Covid-19 deficiencies, for which €8.5 billion is available. 

Other areas explored by the survey included overall satisfaction with study experience, expectations, whether they would recommend the Netherlands. 

Respondents were asked how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their study experience, and how their experience has lived up to their expectations.

Some 23.0% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their study experience since September 2020, and about equal proportions of the students were either satisfied or very satisfied (36.7%) or either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied (39.5%).

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