Our latest Insight report Everyone In, based on a survey carried out by YouthSight, delves into some hard hitting topics about student wellbeing and social inclusion.
We surveyed over 6,500 students to shine a light on some important topics, including social integration, accommodation, financial matters, retention rates, preparedness for work and mental health.
The findings showed that in the main, students report being satisfied with their life while at university. However when split into different groups, the report uncovers communities of students who are markedly more unhappy and for whom university life appears to be more challenging.
In the majority of cases we found that members of these groups, especially those that fell into more than one group, had lower life satisfaction and social integration, and were therefore more likely to consider dropping-out of university. In fact, those who self identified in 3+ groups reported a lower life satisfaction by up to 60% compared to those in none of the minority groupings.
15% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students felt they weren’t integrated in their flats, against 11% of heterosexual students, and 30% of LGB+ students living in accommodation blocks felt they weren’t integrated compared to 25% of heterosexual students. Those without a disability were 71% satisfied with their accommodation, in contrast to 63% of disabled students.
Financial problems are also cited as a cause for dissatisfaction, especially among working class, and black students. 46% of working class students said they couldn’t go out socialising due to money problems, but only 36% of students from socio-economic groups A and B missed out on socialising. 26% of white students had to cut back on food, but 37% of black students had to, and 15% were unable to pay bills.
These groups seem to be disadvantaged in their day to day university life, and it’s directly affecting their decisions to continue with their degrees.
So, what can be done?
“I believe going to a UK university offers a world-class opportunity to explore potential and harness ambition. It is also true that the transition to life at university is significant and not all students find every aspect easy. This is not surprising or necessarily a bad thing. However, what this data has identified is that there are groups of students who appear to find aspects of university life more challenging. At Unite, we believe we have an important role to play in the success of students, and that’s why we feel it is right to see what more we can do to help the students that need us and why this data will help us, along with our partners, to enhance and evolve the support and service we offer.”
– Richard Smith, Chief Executive of Unite Students
All the evidence points towards improved social integration increasing life satisfaction and therefore greater chances of students continuing with their courses, even when they go through a rough patch. It is also clear that students from ethnic minorities, with a disability, who identify as LGB+, are from D and E socio-economic groups, who live at home or are first in their families to go to university, are at the greatest disadvantage, especially when belonging to more than one of those groups.
With social integration playing such an important part in student success and life satisfaction, it is obvious more work needs to be done here, and social aspects should be given more attention as part of the overall student experience.
A different approach to student accommodation helps to alleviate some of the barriers that prevent social integration. Including more communal areas, like shared kitchens and living rooms encourages interaction because bumping into another student becomes an inevitability.
The worry is that a student could become reclusive in their room, miss lectures and enter and exit at times when other students are not likely around, therefore missing opportunities for interaction. If a student has to enter a shared space to cook, or even just make a cup of tea, their presence is apparent to their peers, and a prolonged absence would highlight potential issues to their flatmates.
Unite Students has also released a student app, MyUnite, which helps students opt in to be able to message their future flat mates before they move in, reducing the anxiety about meeting and living with strangers for the first time. It also lets you log maintenance requests, report noise issues, get help if locked out, access the laundry service and more. Information on local support services and the local area in general is also available. All these features aim to tackle the issues that affect students who are at risk of ‘slipping through the net’, and make life as easy as possible for the students so they can concentrate on completing their degrees successfully.
“It is sometimes said higher education is the only part of our education system where prior disadvantage is wiped out… Yet the research behind such claims includes more sobering facts too. The most notable is that people who enter university with the cards stacked against them struggle to reach their full potential.”
– Nick Hillman, Director of Higher Education Policy Institute
There is still a way to go ensure more equitable outcomes, but by consciously considering these social issues when designing the student experience, headway can be made in addressing inequality and giving our students a safe and comfortable platform to achieve their full potential.
Read the full report, Everyone In.