the impact of the pandemic on student wellbeing.

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  • The pandemic has affected the mental health of 74% of vulnerable students negatively
  • Non-binary students hardest hit: 84% say pandemic has a negative effect on mental health
  • But financial pressures less prevalent as students rein in spending

Three quarters of vulnerable students (74 per cent) say that Covid-19 and its associated restrictions have had a negative effect on their mental health.

The findings come from a poll of 1,314 students conducted by Randstad Student Support, a provider of support workers to students with disabilities, health conditions or additional learning needs.

The research also suggests that 81 per cent of vulnerable students (those awarded Disabled Students' Allowance support or support from their universities) feel more isolated as a result of Covid-19.

The research is contained in a new report The COVID-19 pandemic and student mental health, published today, which reveals that over a third of the vulnerable students (36 per cent) say their mental well-being has changed for the worse since starting higher education. 

Charles Bentham-Wood, director of Randstad Student Support said: “The student mental health epidemic has been growing for years. Covid-19 represents the icing on the cake. Vulnerable students feel isolated and their mental health is suffering. The journey through university is a life changing one; at the moment, unfortunately, too many students are finding it’s not a positive one.”

Some students are faring worse than others. For example, 55 per cent of students in their thirties have considered leaving their course. Non-binary students are also more likely to say the pandemic has a negative effect on their mental health (84 per cent say it has) than their cisgender peers (73 per cent). Students over fifty are more prone to feelings of isolation - 87 per cent say they feel more isolated as a result of the pandemic. 

Approximately half (48 per cent) of students say they have considered leaving their course because of their mental health. And 37 per cent of students who were considering leaving their course say this was because “I did not feel like I was getting enough support from my place of study” - an increase on 2019.

Although the pandemic has presented challenges to the provision of student support, only a quarter of students (28 per cent) say remote support is not as beneficial as in person support - while the majority say it is as good.

In theory, providing structured support for graduates and facilitating access to a network of qualified specialist support workers should work better remotely: students could be matched to a much wider virtual network of support workers, based on a bespoke blend of expertise and experience – not limited by geography.

The experience of students utilising support services remotely over the last year reinforces this. Six in every seven students (85 per cent) say they have accessed the same amount of support as previously or that they accessed more, as a result of the shift towards online provision. Only 16 per cent say they have accessed less.

Of the students who had chosen to stay on at university having previously considered leaving, 69 per cent put their decision to stay down to the provision of student support. The provision of support was even more effective when furnished to the over thirties (71 per cent) and far more significant for non-binary students, 83 per cent of whom say they decided to stay on their course as a result of the support they received - compared to 67 per cent of their cisgender peers.


The research also showed that financial pressures on vulnerable students are less prevalent than they were in 2019, when the survey was last run. Two years ago, 63 per cent of students said their mental health was being affected by financial pressures. That has now fallen to 46 per cent.

This may be thanks to government support. In England, the government announced an extra £20m to support students in difficulties last December. The Welsh government announced a further £40m in support for students, including funding to address digital poverty11. More recently, the government announced an extra £50m for student hardship funds in England (on top of £20m agreed at the end of last year). Universities will be able to use the extra funding to help students facing loss of employment, additional costs for alternative accommodation or to support access to remote teaching amid COVID-19.

It seems likely that the pandemic has also forced students to rein in their spending. Living at home, and having fewer social engagements or extra-curricular activities, students may well have saved money during the pandemic.


The report also showed seven in every ten vulnerable students (70 per cent) are either experiencing a short-term mental health condition, have been diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition, or think they may have a condition but not been diagnosed.

Charles Bentham-Wood said: “Mental health issues are losing their stigma. More students are declaring mental health difficulties to university staff before they begin their studies. More organisations, both student and staff-led, are being set up to provide support to students as university starts. The change in the types of help needed on campus present a huge challenge to directors of student support, heads of support services, and heads of well-being within the UK’s universities.”

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Randstad Student Support provides non-medical support to students in higher education in the UK. The support provided ranges from study skills and mentoring support and more general support (which covers a range of practical support roles, such as manual note-taking, library support and exam scribe and reader support). Randstad Student Support also works with university well-being services to provide counselling and specialist mental health support services to students, reducing appointment waiting times and helping students to stay on track with their studies. Randstad Student Support works with 250 institutions to support 17,000 students across the country.