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How can Higher Education end student loneliness?

26 March 2024

The 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey showed that 1 in 4 students feels lonely most or all of the time – and that number is growing. With loneliness carrying the same health risks as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and having a substantial impact on mental health, academic performance and student retention, this month we’re asking: how can Higher Education end student loneliness?

Our expert panel discusses which student groups are most at risk of loneliness (and when), what support exists for students who are lonely, how to help students integrate into the student community, and how the sector can mitigate contributing factors such as the cost of living crisis and proximity to campus.

Host Jen Steadman, Senior HE Communications Executive at Unite Students, also shares her personal experience of loneliness at university.

This month’s panel includes:

  • Nicola Frampton, Insight Manager at Student Minds
  • Sarah Djuric, Residence Life Manager at the University of Leeds
  • Jenny Dalzell, Regional Student Support Manager at Unite Students

You can listen to the episode, or read the transcript, below.


Episode transcript: ‘How can Higher Education end student loneliness?’

Jen Steadman: Hello and welcome to Accommodation Matters, where each month we look at the big issues affecting student accommodation. My name’s Jen Steadman, I oversee Higher Education communications at Unite Students, and I’m your host for today.

In this episode, we’re going to be looking at the topic of student loneliness, and this is something that’s really close to my heart. Growing up, university was sold as the place where you could explore new frontiers of adulthood, like drinking and clubbing, where you’d make lifelong friends and memories. And above all else, you’d have the space and opportunity to become the person you wanted to be.

For a majority of students, it still is that place, but there are also a good many students who for one reason or another, don’t have that experience, and I was one of them. 300 miles away from home, I didn’t find my tribe and I struggled to adapt to my newfound independence, loneliness, and homesickness turns depression, and I seriously considered dropping out of university so I know how deeply it can impact on the student experience.

I’m hoping that this episode can help our listeners to better understand why students become lonely, how it can manifest in their accommodation, and what we as a sector can do to better prevent student loneliness. I’m joined today by wonderful panel of experts who will help me to drill into this topic, and first up is Nicola Frampton, Insight Manager at Student Minds. Hi Nicola.

Nicola Frampton: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Jen: That’s no problem at all. Next we have Sarah Djuric, Residence Life Manager at the University of Leeds. Welcome to the show, Sarah.

Sarah Djuric: Hi. Thank you. Looking forward to chatting with everyone.

Jen: Brilliant. And last but certainly not least is Jenny Dalzell, regional student support manager at Unite Students. Hi there, Jenny.

Jenny Dalzell: Hi everyone. I’m looking forward to chatting today and thanks for sharing that, Jen.

Jen: That’s okay. Hopefully I haven’t brought the mood down too much, but let’s get into it. So I’m going to come to Nicola first. I’m wondering if you could give us a quick overview of some of the main causes of student loneliness and how common this is in the student population.

Nicola: Yeah, sure. So unfortunately we know loneliness is a common experience for students and it’s not really anything new. So Wonkhe published a piece of research back in 2019 called Only The Lonely, which found that around 16% of students felt lonely every day. So clearly it’s not something that’s only been driven by the pandemic, but probably something that has been exacerbated by that few years where our social interactions were very, very limited.

So in terms of causes, I think loneliness clearly stems from a lack of good quality social connections. So anything that really acts as a barrier to forming and maintaining those kind of social connections is something that might be considered as contributing to loneliness. So if we’re thinking about the current student body, I think we know that students are engaging in far more paid employment to manage the cost of living crisis, which of course then acts as a barrier to engaging in social opportunities.

I also think if you consider the physical environment as well, so if students feel physically isolated from other students, that can really act as a barrier to engaging and building social connections, which then again, in turn can cause feelings of loneliness. And I also just think it’s a result of the shift into higher education sometimes.

So for a lot of students, they’re leaving behind those good quality connections that they’ve maybe forged at home with friends and family and then moving into a completely new kind of environment where they don’t have those yet, which can make students feel particularly lonely. Or even if they’re staying at home and living with their family and previous friends, they might not necessarily understand or empathise with the experience of being a student, which again could cause loneliness for that person experiencing that.

So I think there really is a range of things that could contribute to a student feeling lonely during their university experience. And unfortunately we know that it’s particularly widespread in today’s student body.

Jen: Thanks for that, Nicola. And that is a pretty high number, 16% feeling lonely every day. There’s a lot I want to unpack there, particularly around the physical isolation. Obviously that really ties into accommodation, but coming back to that point around the transition to university, that’s something I wanted to ask about.

We’re currently working on a short piece of research around that transition to university and making sure that students are able to do that successfully. Is there anything in particular that you’ve seen that can really help students to not become lonely when they arrive at university? And are there any other points on the student journey where students are particularly prone to loneliness?

Nicola: Yeah, so I think in terms of what can help students, I think a lot of opportunity to integrate and connect is front-loaded within that freshest week, which can be very exciting for lots of students, but it can also be particularly overwhelming for some students. And then once that Freshers Week is over, it feels like that opportunity just stops. So I think in terms of supporting transition, we would say to embed opportunities to connect throughout that first academic year and then throughout the whole university journey as well, I think is really important.

And I also think that being intentionally inclusive and putting on a range of different events for students is really important. Not just focusing on alcohol fuelled events or late night events, but also offering alcohol free opportunities, daytime opportunities so that all students can see an event that appeals to them and go and meet like-minded people during those early stages.

So in terms of the other points, I think really loneliness is felt throughout the academic year. I think it’s really difficult to pinpoint exact moments where students feel more or less lonely, but in particular, I also think during university holidays can be really challenging. So if you are a student who stays on campus or around campus during university holidays, that can be particularly isolating and can lead to a sense of loneliness if those people that you’ve built connections with don’t stay in or around campus during time.

And then equally, if you move away from the people that you’ve been living with throughout the academic year and back to your non-term time address, I think that shift can also really impact the sense of belonging and connectedness throughout the academic year. So I think whilst there are pinch points throughout the epidemic year, I think we should be looking at the whole university experience as one. And obviously every student is different, so it’ll be different for everybody.

Jen: Definitely. And that’s a great point. I hadn’t really thought about how it can impact on students who do make those connections and maybe feel more lonely when they’re away from university. I just wanted to come back to the piece around accommodation. I mean, that’s very much how my own experience of loneliness played out a lot of time being spent in my room in halls.

So Jenny, I was just wondering how do you tend to see loneliness manifest in student accommodation, and have you seen it evolve over time the same way as Nicola has?

Jenny: Yeah, I think exactly like you’ve said, Jen, it is around spending more time alone potentially for students. And just as Nicola was talking, I was just reflecting on my own university experience and how I lucked out with the people that I was living with, and we naturally became really close friends and we had some of the same hobbies and the same interests. So that came quite naturally.

But we know from our data and from our experience within Unite Students that that’s not the same for every student. And actually for a lot of students, they do struggle to make those connections in their flat and quite often that’s their first real taste of university life. It’s easier for students sometimes to feel less supported.

Like Nicola said, they don’t have the same support networks that they would have at home. Typically, it can become difficult for students to engage in all the activities that are on if they’re struggling to just make those first initial friends because you want to go to those events with the friends that you’ve made.

Initially what we saw, particularly during Covid as well, is sort of reliance from flatmate to flatmate, probably something the others have seen as well where students become isolated because they feel almost like they’re looking after their flatmates as well. And that can be a really isolating experience where that’s not what you expect when you come to university and students are taking on a lot of responsibility for other people around them.

And that’s something we’ve really been looking at and just really encouraging students to speak to us if they’re not happy in their flats because we can facilitate flat meetings. They’ve been really successful in getting students to talk about how they are living together and how they can live together more cohesively potentially, but also moving students and looking at where we think students might be better placed if we have the capacity to do that. Because it’s really important to feel comfortable where you live.

There’s so many things that the universities can do and the accommodation can do to try and make that experience a bit better.

Jen: Thanks for that, Jenny. I’m just wondering, are there any student demographics that we’re seeing that are particularly at risk of loneliness?

Jenny: Yeah, so we recently looked at our Applicant Index data. We do an applicant survey every year to look at how students, well applicants are feeling as they approach the start of their university journey. And then we compared the applicant data to student data around loneliness as well, which came from the HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey. And we found that overall going to university doesn’t make students more lonely, which is a positive. We saw that applicant loneliness and student loneliness was pretty much on par.

However, when we look into different student groups, that’s where we see some differences there. So we found in particular that for black students, for trans students, for LGBT+ students, the loneliness levels got significantly higher as students came into university compared to when they were applicants. So we saw a rise within those student groups. And then for students with a disability or health condition, we found that the levels of loneliness actually decreased compared to applicant levels of loneliness.

But what we also found is that the percentage for applicant loneliness is already pretty high. So although it seems like a positive, we feel actually those numbers shouldn’t be so high in the first place. So for those students, we found that 44% of applicants were lonely compared to 38% of students. So those numbers are really quite high and quite worrying, and that’s compared to our overall levels of applicant loneliness, which is 24%. And then student loneliness we found was 26%, so not a huge change there. Yeah, I’m not sure if Nicola you’re seeing similar things?

Nicola: Yeah, definitely very similar. So I think a piece of research by DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] that we supported last year found very similar trends. We also found that female students were far more likely than male students to report experiences of loneliness. But yeah, also LGBTQ+ students and disabled students as well. Definitely far more likely to experience loneliness.

I think it’s really important to consider university context as well, isn’t it? So if you are at an institution that is very predominantly white, for example, I think black and racialized students are going to be far more likely to experience that sense of loneliness and isolation. Perhaps they’re not seeing people who look like themselves amongst staff and students. So yeah, I think the university context is really important as well.

And we’re thinking about demographics and I think that’s why diversity in university populations is so important, but also why it’s so important for universities to understand their student bodies and the support needs that might be there based on demographics and how universities can support that kind of social integration and belonging approach for all of their students. So yeah, I would really advocate for that moving forwards as well.

Jen: Yeah, it’s definitely important to have targeted resources because obviously we know different factors will affect different students sense of belonging. We’ve got now a sense of why students become lonely, which students are more likely to become lonely, let’s talk about how we can help students to feel like they’re more integrated into the community and less likely to feel lonely.

So Sarah, you’ve obviously been waiting patiently, but this is where I’d like to really bring you in. What role can residence life play in helping students to become involved in the university community?

Sarah: Yeah, I think residence life plays a really enormous role in getting students involved. For the University of Leeds in particular, we see a lot of first year students that are living in a residence or students that are in their Masters or PhD, but it’s their first time in the country. It’s sort of a new experience for them. So making sure that people have a positive experience in their halls and that they settle in well is really important in terms of that retention and that persistence to graduation.

When our students feel that sense of belonging, they’re more likely to finish their degree and have a positive experience in university. I think for our students, if we can get them to come in and immediately make them feel welcomed and they’re a part of the community, it’s easier for them to access the supports they need and ensure they have that positive experience and have maybe less of a sense of loneliness.

I think for residence life, the way we can do that is making sure we’re supporting and familiarising our students with the campus and the resources available on campus, facilitating that sense of community and connection through events and programmes. And then I think also helping develop those life skills and leadership skills that students might need to have that push to get involved in things that are happening in residence and on campus. So helping develop that sort of resilience and confidence to show up to things for the first time and to put yourself out there and meet new people.

The other thing that I think that we do really well for residence life that’s really important is that warm transfer process. So when students are feeling lonely or need support, not just saying, here’s what you need to do, but saying, I can really empathise with that experience. Let me tell you about these opportunities or the ways you can get involved. Let’s find what’s right for you, and then I will walk you through how to do those things. Not just saying there’s your solution, but walking people to that solution and supporting them through that process. Those are some of the ways that we can do that in residence life.

Jen: That’s really interesting and brilliant to hear about that. Your colleague, Rebecca O’Hare, who’s been on the podcast a couple of times, she’s very much a friend of the podcast, wrote a blog for us maybe two and a half years ago about how ResLife had been done during Covid, particularly with digital events. And one of the things I remember she really focused on was how virtual events made it much more accessible for introverted students to get involved with ResLife.

Is that something that you still do? How do you bring those introverted students in who might be a bit less likely to show up if they haven’t already got those networks?

Sarah: Yeah, I think it was a really big learning curve through the pandemic and how we can bring introverts into our programmes and ensure that they are well and enjoying themselves because it’s a group of students that I think can often be missed out since the pandemic.

We have shifted away from online programming, but I think have taken a lot from those experiences and what we’ve learned and adjusted our programme so that they support introverts because honestly, we weren’t getting a turnout for students for online programming. I think even some of our introverted students still wanted to be back and physically on campus and available. With that in mind, I think there’s this idea that events and programmes need to be big and huge and the number of students that show up are important, but I think for us, not every event needs to be a big party and we don’t need to be so numbers focused.

I think if we can focus on intentional programmes that students show up to and feel welcomed to, it can be really welcoming to our introverted students. For us, we’ve started running a lot of quieter programmes, and the main goal of those isn’t always for people to meet new people. Sometimes it’s just to show up and be in a space with new people.

So we’ve been doing a lot of crafting events or biscuit decorating. We have lots of students that come in big groups or in smaller groups, and sometimes we have students that come alone and pop their headphones in and it’s just a space for them to be involved but not necessarily need to be interacting with a million new people. And I think that they’re really content to do that. We’ve also sort of shifted towards pony therapy and dog therapy and events where students can drop in their own time.

They’re not necessarily committed to being somewhere for an hour or two hours at that event. They can pick and choose what works best for them, scavenger hunts across campus that people can do on their own but are still involved and in the community. And then we’ve done a lot of things like theatre trips and trips to the movies where students can show up together, but there’s sort of that shared interest where you have the opportunity to talk with and engage with people, or you can just show up and be with people doing the same activity.

And we’ve looked at smaller things we can do. So we run a ‘gym buddies’ programme where we pair two or three students up across campus and based off of their interests in fitness, they can go and do those things as a smaller group rather than a big group fitness class.

So just kind of looking at different options. I also think when we opened the door to thinking about introverts, it got us to think about the other groups and demographics in halls. So we’ve started tailoring some of our programmes towards LGBTQ students. We’ve partnered with the Black Feminist Society to run different kinds of events.

So just that transition from ‘events need to be for everyone and we need to get as many people as possible’ to, let’s look at the interests of our students and really make these intentional moments where people can connect with each other or can be in the community.

Jen: I absolutely love those ideas. It sounds like there’s plenty going on and something for everyone very much. And Jenny, I think you’ll probably want to talk a little bit about our resident ambassador programme who also support with events within our buildings, but it’s coming from the students themselves.

Jenny: Yeah, thanks, Jen. Yeah, our Resident Ambassador programme was first formed in 2016, designed to help students settle in, make new friends, build confidence, and also to help improve their employability portfolio. So we really wanted to capture the voice of our student communities and tailor our service and really deliver that inclusive positive environment for students.

So we had a bit of a refresh of the scheme this year. The scheme now sits under the student support team, which I feel is the best fit for it because it really looks at the connection between student wellbeing and student belonging and making sure those two things are connected. So we’ve been looking at how we can make the scheme a little bit better.

Some of the things that we’ve been doing this year is that we have produced a full onboarding programme for our Resident Ambassadors. So we did the training in the summer before they started in September, training on how to run events, how to budget, some stuff around boundaries and how to report any concerns that they have for students during the events.

And we’ve been much more focused as well on collecting feedback from our Resident Ambassadors and from students attending the events to look at what works, what doesn’t work. Again, like Sarah said, it’s not necessarily about the numbers, but it’s about what that engagement looks like and what feedback the students have from that. So looking to be much more data-driven than we probably have been previously, to be honest.

We’re also getting our Resident Ambassadors more involved within Unite Students as a company and our wider values and principles. So we’ve had resident ambassadors attend senior leadership meetings and events to share their experiences. And it was really interesting at one earlier in the year, the teams were asked to write down what they think students will be worried about moving into halls. And there was a lot around making friends, fitting in, all the stuff that we are talking about today, but also very much around the basics of I want to make sure things work, that everything in the halls is how it should be.

And actually those basic physical elements will have an impact on student loneliness because students will be confident in the environment around them, they’ll feel confident that they can leave their room and they’ve not have something that’s got to be fixed. And so I think it really opened up everyone’s eyes around just getting those real fundamental basics and then that elevating the student experience because actually they just already feel comfortable. They feel like, yeah, this is my room. Everything works. I know how to get around the building. The team on the desk have told me what’s available in the local community. I know where the supermarket is.

So it’s just really about getting those basics right as well as our events programme. We’ve also created a community living guide, which our Resident Ambassadors were key in producing that, and that’s really to encourage those conversations between flatmates to come to agreements about how they can best live together harmoniously. So yeah, those are some of the things that we’ve been looking at.

We’ve also started to deliver the ‘Look after your mate’ workshops to our Resident Ambassadors very much around that boundary setting. If a student talks to you about their mental health during one of your events, this is what you should do. This is where you can also go to for support.

We don’t want our resident ambassadors to feel like they have to then take on student issues, and we’ll also make sure we’re checking in with them to see how they’re feeling after the events if anything has come up. So yeah, hopefully that answers your question, Jen.

Jen: Yeah, there’s lots of things going on and in the coming up to three and a half years that I’ve been working at, I’ve definitely seen that Resident Ambassador programme evolve, and it’s great to see them getting so much more involved and sharing those insights with decision makers.

So this is all great, the proactive stuff, obviously that’s key to stop students from falling through the net, but realistically, you’re always likely to get the odd student who still doesn’t quite find their place for whatever reason. So it would be great to hear from each of you what you’d recommend for students who maybe haven’t found their support networks, what support is out there, and particularly thinking about those at-risk student groups. Nicola, I’ll ask you first as I know you can talk about Student Space.

Nicola: Yes, perfect. That is top of my list. So student lines runs an online free to access platform called Student Space, which we first developed during the pandemic thanks to funding for the OfS [Office for Students] and for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales [HEFCW]. It is full of psychoeducational content for students to access written by qualified clinicians about navigating the challenges of university life.

So we have a whole section on there around friendships and social life. We have an article about overcoming loneliness so students can access that for free anytime on any kind of device for some kind of tips and advice around how they can take a structured approach to making friends, how they can maybe take new approaches to overcoming loneliness whilst at university. All sorts of advice on there around the many, many aspects of being at university. We also signpost to quite a few brilliant other charities that we’ve worked with in the past for particular student groups.

So for students from a range of identities can have a look and look for some tailored support on student space as well, which is really exciting. And then in terms of outside of that, I would absolutely recommend students’ unions and student-led student groups for finding your tribe and finding people with shared interests. Every university will have societies that you can join. So yeah, I think it’s really important for accommodation staff to have an awareness of that and know how to signpost students to those kind of groups, which is really helpful.

And of course, most universities also offer some kind of clinical support counselling services, mental health services, so also for accommodation providers to be aware of those and able to signpost to those is super important as well. So hopefully that’s a nice broad overview. But yeah, in terms of first point of contact for students who are looking for some low level support or for some kind of self-help, definitely recommend Student Space.

Jen: Brilliant. Sarah, is there anything that you’d recommend for students who find themselves feeling lonely?

Sarah: Yeah, I think if it’s a student living in halls, talking to your Residence Life team is a great opportunity and something that I preach all of the time. But we’ve got Residence Life Assistants and live-in wardens, so essentially just volunteers and staff that are in those buildings and a lot of those Residence Life Assistants are students and have an understanding of that student experience very recently and can really relate and as peers can be a really fantastic go-to point of contact.

I think on top of that, working at a university, it’s so clear to me how much all of the other staff and different departments care about students wellbeing and safety and that they have a positive experience. So for students, talk to that counselling team, talk to your personal tutor, talk to your residence life team because even if they can’t solve the problem, they probably know the right people to put you in touch with to get you where you need to be and feeling connected.

Jen: Perfect. And finally, Jenny.

Jenny: Yeah, I think a lot has been covered by Sarah and Nicola, but yeah, student space is certainly something that we signpost students to. It’s sort of universal across all of our properties. It’s not unique to one city or one university partner, but also, yeah, for us it’s working really closely with our university partners and making sure those local relationships are really strong so that we know what’s going on at the universities. We have a full understanding of the support offer and going beyond just saying, oh, your university will have counselling services, this is how you can contact them.

ut actually being able to fully explain to students what services are available, what they mean, how they can contact them, and helping students to do that. Really something else that we’ve launched last year was our student wellbeing helpline and our Wisdom app. So similar to what Nicola was saying, there’s lots of content within the Wisdom app where students can access information, resources, tips and advice about different wellbeing topics.

The one that’s had the biggest tips is around sleep fatigue, but there’s also lots of students that are interested in things like healthy eating exercise and just general information around wellbeing and healthy living. So that’s really interesting data for us to see what students in our rules are worried about what they’re thinking about and what they want to have more information on.

And then really just how we communicate with our students around the Resident Ambassador scheme and really encouraging students to take that step into attending one of our events. And one of the focuses for the Ambassadors this year has really been around speaking to students in the halls, what type of events do they want to see? Rather than us being like, “Oh yeah, students will love this event, we’ll just put this event on.” But actually really understanding what students in that building want to see.

And again, that links back into different demographics of students and really bringing that student voice to the centre really.

Jen: Fantastic. Well, it’s always good to hear that there’s so much out there for students who are feeling that way, and it’s definitely a very different landscape to how it was about 10 years or so when I was at university.

I was actually talking to one of my colleagues in the comms team about our own university experiences, and she lived fairly close to home. She studied nearby. I was quite surprised to learn that she also felt lonely, not because of being far away from home, but actually because her accommodation was so far away from her campus and from the town that she studied in.

So Sarah, how can universities make sure that students who don’t live on or near campus feel part of the university community?

Sarah: Yeah, I think first and foremost, it’s really important for us to be running site-specific programming and creating community within that hall to connect students and putting real emphasis on the onsite support that’s available to students. I think knowing that sites are far away, we need to work extra hard to get students connected with each other as soon as possible in those spaces. So it’s the right foot forward when they’re starting the year.

We put a lot of emphasis on programming and events, but outside of that, we need to be putting an emphasis on that one-on-one communication, especially in those sites that are a little bit further away and making sure that we’re taking the time to do flat visits or have intentional conversations with those students to really understand how they are feeling if they are feeling lonely. And then just trying to make access to campus as accessible as possible.

I think we have sites that are further away and we can’t just move them closer. What we can do is show students the easiest ways to get onto campus and to get to those spaces when there are things happening a little bit further away. And then on top of that, just making sure that, I guess when I think about community, I think about connection to the residence community, so events and halls and things going on in that hall, a connection to the university community, but also just the wider city community.

And we have a few halls that are a little bit further away from the university, but in fabulous spaces within the city and seeing how we can connect our students with the events and the different spaces that are in that part of the city as well, so they feel connected in that sense.

Jen: Yeah, that’s definitely something for accommodation teams dealing with far out sites to really keep in mind, it’s already come up very briefly in this recording, but it would be remiss of us not to reference that cost of living piece. Obviously we know that students more and more are having to take part-time jobs, which cuts into not only their ability to study, but their ability to socialise and make those friends. But also if you haven’t got much in your bank account, it might really cut into what options you have in terms of socialising.

So I don’t know if anyone has anything that they want to suggest in terms of how the sector can support students who may be struggling with their finances.

Sarah: I’m happy to go first. We are seeing a big push for different spaces to subsidise programmes that they’re running and make them free and accessible to students. For us personally, a lot of the programmes that we’ve run have been focused on the cost of living. So if we’re running a bingo event, some of the prizes have been groceries or household items that would be really useful to students. So thinking about how we can be mindful of that cost of living and make things a little bit easier for students.

I also think it’s important for us to think about communal spaces and if a student’s working a part-time job and then they need to prioritise studying over an event, are there spaces and halls where they can study and still be around their friends instead of just feeling stuck in their room and maybe they’re not participating in something fun, but they’re around other people and sometimes that can be meaningful. So making sure we have those physical spaces available.

Jenny: So yeah, similar to what Sarah was saying with our Resident Ambassador events, we always run those to make sure there’s not a cost to the student.

Something else which we’ve also launched around cost of living is our Aldi financial support scheme. And so we’ve joined up with university partners on this, but have also provided Aldi vouchers directly to some of our property teams to be able to provide in the moment support for students where they may be speak to our team and say, “Look, I’m really struggling. I can’t afford to buy my basic groceries this week.”

It could also come up in conversations around debt that we may have with students. And it just means that in those properties, students can have a little bit more support. Or if students present to the university partners that we’ve engage with on this service… maybe they don’t quite meet the threshold for a university hardship fund, for example, but this can bolster that provision and just give something else to students and they’re able to get those basics.

A lot of our buildings, we’ve also started up pantries, so sort of donate what you can take, what you need for students in a very discreet way, not at the reception desk for example. So those are a couple of things that we’ve been working on.

And again, for us it’s really key around the signposting piece in halls. So signposting students to services where they can get advice around debt, advice around finance, and again, having that really clear understanding of what our local university processes are for students who may need extra financial support and helping students through that process. If they just need a bit of support to fill in some of the forms or to just understand some of the language, then our teams can help with that. And encouraging students to reach out for help and letting them know that it’s okay if they need help and that it’s important to ask for help.

And yeah, we’ve also partnered with Blackbullion around their financial advice for students. So I think there’s a lot of support and information out there for students. It’s just communicating that and really helping students to understand what that looks like is sometimes more of the challenge, because they get a lot of communications.

Nicola: I definitely agree with everything that Jenny and Sarah said, and it’s great to hear some of the work that’s being done to support students through this really difficult time.

I don’t really have loads to add. I just think that asking a question is probably one of the most important things. So when you are planning an event or an activity or even just putting out some comms, like having that moment to think, okay, we’re in a cost of living crisis. Is there anything that we can change here to support students more during this event? Can we make it cheaper or can we provide something? Can we provide tea and coffee as an extra for anyone that comes? Just building that in everything that’s done.

And I also think the real issue is that students just don’t have enough money that is the problem. So I think really focusing and recognising that because there’s only so much budgeting that you can do with a certain amount of money. So I think being really sympathetic and compassionate in recognising that will go a long way in supporting students to feel more seen and comfortable in accessing the support.

Like Jenny said, knowing that actually they’re not the problem here. It’s not that they’ve blown their cash right at the start of term and the blame is on them. Not that at all. It’s the fact that maintenance loans haven’t increased in line with inflation. So I think making that clear can really support students to feel confident in accessing support, which is really important.

Jen: Absolutely. So we’re coming to the end now and it would be great to hear from everyone. What’s one thing you’d like to see the sector do better so that students are less likely to find themselves feeling lonely? I’ll come to you first. Nicola.

Nicola: Yeah, I think it’s just embedding that inclusive social integration approach throughout the year, and not just front-loading during Freshers, but really building opportunities for social connection across the air and across the university, including in halls of residence, but also in the academic process and really taking that into account, I would really love to see.

Jen: And Jenny?

Jenny: Yeah, similar to Nicola, really – I think it is looking at different student groups as well, and we haven’t talked about it on this podcast, but for example, the Living Black At University research, it really shed light on the experiences of black students and those recommendations are really key in ensuring a better experience for those students. We’ve also recently launched a neurodiversity report around experiences for students who are neurodivergent.

And again, it’s really important work, and it’s just how we can work collaboratively with HE partners and other groups within the student sector to really drive those recommendations forward and then continue that type of research for different student groups to really look at different students’ experiences as well as the student experience as a whole and how we can really contribute to making those experiences better.

Jen: Absolutely. And then finally, Sarah.

Sarah: Yeah, I think the one thing for me is we can’t expect lonely students to suddenly show up to our events. We have to be speaking with them in advance and throughout the year in those one-on-one spaces first to help them find programmes and events that they’re interested in and then help them build the resilience and the courage they need to push themselves and show up to those events.

Jen: Well that’s all we’ve got time for, but I’d like to thank my three amazing guests for their thoughtful contributions. It’s been a real privilege to host this episode and hear about all the ways in which the sector is trying to prevent student loneliness, and I really hope those ideas help those of you listening to create an environment in which all students can thrive.

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