Students increasingly experience study stress and performance pressure. "We try to stimulate the change from study success to student success", says Rianne van der Zanden, programme leader for student wellbeing at our university. Erasmus University Rotterdam has set up an extensive programme for this.
According to Van der Zanden, this is only the beginning: "We want student wellbeing to be structurally included in the university's policy decisions and we want the 'successful student' to be viewed differently. But students must also get to work themselves. Get to know yourself, seek help in time if necessary, find out what suits you and how high you want to set the bar."
In the 80s Rianne van der Zanden studied herself. That was very different from now: "The study was part of your life. Nowadays, the lives of students often consist mainly of studying. As a student you have to work and of course study hard for exams. But you also want to do fun things, relax a bit and make friends. That's what your student days are for."
"We don't all have to graduate cum laude"
Students are regularly in a kind of 'rat race'. According to the programme leader for student wellbeing, the university cannot close its eyes to this. A more inclusive definition of success is needed, but students can also take action themselves. "Students sometimes drive each other crazy. Some students get high marks and do all kinds of things besides studying. That is, of course, very nice and appropriate for some. Others then think: 'I should do that too'. But that is not necessary at all. Everyone is different. Just take your physical structure: how much sleep do you need, for example? Ask yourself these questions when you feel the pressure to do the same as your fellow student: Does this suit me? Do I really want this? What am I satisfied with? We don't all have to graduate cum laude.”
Graduating with burnout symptoms is not the intention
The university also has a major role to play in this. "As a university, you don't want people graduating with burn-out symptoms due to a high performance culture, do you? I think you want to deliver resilient, self-confident students who can cope with experiences of failure and have a balanced life. In the end, that also benefits the grades and the potential to create 'societal impact'. So, on the one hand, we encourage students to invest in their personal development and, on the other, we make the university aware of what is going on with our students and how we can respond to that."
The seven projects within student wellbeing
Online Wellbeing Platform
“This is where we bundle all our university's wellness and personal development services. For example, online coaching by an external party with whom we have entered into a relationship. Students can use it free of charge.”
Living Room and Information Point
"A meeting place for students. A place to relax after a lecture or an exam. A game of table football, chatting with fellow students or getting information about the welfare offerings and how you can develop personally. The Living Room is now on the Plaza of Woudestein Campus."
Working with teachers
“Give training to lecturers, so that they know how they can strengthen the wellbeing of students. What role can lecturers play in this, without being overcharged? In addition, lecturers will soon be able to show a short video about the wellbeing offerings at the start of a new lecture block. In this way, students become familiar with what is on offer.”
Student Support Service
"This consists of student psychologists, student coaches, career service, study advisors. We are talking to all these helpers. What do they need? How can we further improve the support and how much information is desirable?"
“This digital tool for all students is still in production. An interactive tool for daily use. There is a piece of AI in it. You get targeted information and exercises that are relevant to your wellbeing and growth.”
Student Wellbeing Weeks
“Annual events at our university. It's all about having fun, relaxing, meeting each other, your personal development and all forms of wellbeing; mental, physical and social.”
Monitoring and spreading the mission
“To gain insight into how our students are doing, the Student Wellbeing Monitor is distributed among all EUR students. Based on the results, policies and projects are adjusted and the mission on student wellbeing is disseminated.”
Student success is about grades, wellbeing and personal growth
The big goal is clear: a turnaround from study success to student success. Study success is about grades. Student success is also about wellbeing and personal development. “We have set up wonderful projects, but the trick is to make all students familiar with them from 2022 onwards. Some students are more likely to be lonely: women, first generation students, students with disabilities, students from non-Western backgrounds, LGBT group and international students. We certainly do not want to miss out on these groups. Together with our Diversity & Inclusion Office, we will work next year to achieve this.”
Student success is measured with the student monitor, a questionnaire for students about their wellbeing. "We ask if they know about our projects. And of course, whether they themselves feel that their performance has gone up or down recently. The student monitor has been sent out once now. This year, after the second edition, we can draw conclusions about how things are going. The first results were worrying. You don't only see this at our university. Students have a hard time, and the pandemic has only made it worse.”
Offering a place for relaxation
According to Rianne van der Zanden, the first results show that we are on the right track. "Students really appreciate what we do. We get good feedback through various channels. They say, for example, that the Living Room is very nice. After a lecture or an exam, you can relax there. Plop down on the couch, play table football and unwind. We have great facilities on the campus: catering, study places, etc. But there is a real need for a place to relax, to meet people and for which you don't have to pay.”
Ultimately, student wellbeing must be more integrated into the curriculum. According to Van der Zanden, the university should radiate that we are not just there for the good grades. “We also want you to feel good and to develop yourself. You want to radiate that. And that the university also includes student wellbeing in its decision-making process as a matter of course. Just like it does with sustainability, for example. A nice goal for 2022.”