University students’ mental wellbeing is “on the radar” with the recent launch of Orygen’s Australian University Mental Health Framework (2020), commissioned by Universities Australia in response to  recommendation eight of the Higher Education Standards Panel report (2018). The framework emphasises the student experience and compels all members of university communities towards healthy learning environments.

So, what can we do, as lecturers, tutors and support staff, to help students manage the “normal” stresses of university life?

It turns out, quite a lot! A major finding of a recent NCSEHE Equity Fellowship investigating student mental wellbeing is the central importance of teaching and learning. Students’ everyday interactions with their course content, assessment tasks, lecturers, tutors, support staff and their peers can make a real difference. A survey conducted with 1,800 mature-aged students in, and from, regional and remote Australia revealed these “everyday” interactions (on-campus or online) impact on students’ mental wellbeing.

Let’s look at the experiences of one interviewee, “Olivia” (pseudonym), a mature-aged student who studied on-line and juggled life on a farm with young children and commitments in her community. Time pressures, finances, and internet access were concerns for Olivia, but she found university empowering as she became enthralled with learning.

So, what worked for Olivia? She reported feeling connected with peers and staff, and a sense of belonging to her course and university. She received academic and emotional support on-line and also face-to-face at a Regional University Centre (RUC). She said she was prepared for university, having completed an enabling/preparation programme, and she felt her assessment tasks were meaningful and relevant. She said her lecturers and tutors gave her timely answers to pressing questions, and she could access free wifi and computers at a local library and the RUC.

This investigation found that students want the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning to be done well. They were typically time poor and were not asking for specific mental health and wellbeing events. Plus, it’s the little things that count – empathetic human interactions make a big difference!

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month

Dr Nicole Crawford, Senior Research Fellow and 2019/20 Equity Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University, Australia. Adjunct Lecturer, University of Tasmania, Australia, [email protected]

Dr Sherridan Emery, Research Assistant, University of Tasmania, Australia, [email protected]

 Dr Crawford speaks on student mental health at this week’s Needed Now conference ,May 2021, 11:30 pm – 12:30 pm AEST. Register here


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