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All spring long, there were discussions of how remote teaching would affect school children’s and upper secondary education students’ welfare. Deservedly so, as students’ daily routines changed significantly. However, public discourse failed to reflect similarly on students in higher education institutions, even though these institutions closed their doors due to the pandemic all the same.

“Higher education institutions took a gigantic leap into the digital sphere over the last few months, and one would hope that the remote teaching methods that proved successful would be utilized in the future, as well. Nonetheless, studying from home also has its flip side. During this COVID-19 spring, students have shown to be more exhausted than in previous years, and they’ve experienced an increase in their stress levels due to the remote-access classes. The starting point was already worrisome: according to the most recent student health survey, 30 percent of students had faced mental health issues, and a third of all students was under considerable stress,” notes Nyyti Ry’s Chairperson Sanni Lehtinen.

The general recommendation to work remotely will be lifted in the beginning of August. It is essential that we also consider the next steps regarding remote studies and any lessons to be learned from this spring. Some higher education institutions have already stated that the coming semester’s first classes will be held over a remote connection, with some exceptions. If remote-access classes are to be continued, organizations should ensure that course work does not increase unreasonably due to the remote teaching method. Furthermore, it’s crucial that sufficient support and guidance services are available when planning and carrying out studies. Quickly accessible, low-entry-threshold support must also be available for students facing exhaustion and mental health challenges.

“It’s taxing to a person if they have to cope alone. The number of students who frequently feel lonely has been on the rise throughout the 2000s. Surveys conducted by higher education institutions and student unions suggest that a sense of loneliness has become more common this spring, and many people feel distanced from their study community,” explains Executive Director Minna Savolainen.

One should not underestimate the significance of a sense of belonging to a community. Communities have a central part in forming a person’s mental state. Social support and a sense of unity are connected to good mental health, and they have a positive effect on coping with study-related stress and advancing one’s studies. It’s also much more meaningful to study in a community that welcomes you and supports you throughout your studies. “Student organizations put an enormous amount of effort into creating a sense of community each academic year. Higher education institutions should listen to these organizations when examining how to build a sense of community,” suggests Lehtinen.

The Finnish Parliament directed millions of euros in funding towards guidance in higher education institutions and to improve the support systems for students’ well-being. That is a step in the right direction. Investments into students’ wellness will be paid back in full in the future. The ability to study is a predecessor to the ability to work, but it’s also valuable in itself. We must take care of students all the way through their studies, even in higher education institutions.

For more information, contact
Sanni Lehtinen, Nyyti chairperson (+358 40 823 6077, sanni.lehtinen@nyyti.fi)
Minna Savolainen, Nyyti Executive Director (+358 44 589 6117, minna.savolainen@nyyti.fi)

References
University of Helsinki 2020
Student Health Survey 2016
SAMOK ry 2020
University of Tampere 2020 incl. Tampere University of Applied Sciences (available through the university’s intranet)
The Student Union of the University of Turku 2020
Ministry of Finance 2020