Webinar Recap: Global Approaches to Wellbeing & Student Support in Higher Education

Growing macroeconomic and social headwinds are putting pressure on today’s university and college students and higher education institutions must start to provide holistic support to address students’ financial worries, mental health concerns, and ensure wellbeing. 

To shed light on these issues and what higher education can do, Symplicity and Orbis were thrilled to convene a global panel to discuss comparative approaches to student support and wellbeing. Panelists discussed proactive and integrated approaches to support processes and shared their best practices. Our panelists included: Tim Galarneau an Education and Research Specialist and the Basic Needs Co-chair at the University of California Santa Cruz; Andy Shanks the Director of Wellbeing at the University of Edinburgh; and Dr. Birgit Schreiber a Senior Associate of Higher Education Leadership and Vice President of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services.

Each of our panelists provided a unique perspective on holistic student support particular to their region. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the conversation.

University of Edinburgh: Multi-Disciplinary Approach

At the University of Edinburgh, its large counseling services can see well over 4,000 students a year. To meet this demand, Andy Shanks outlined the institution’s approach to supporting students alongside its staff and faculty when it changed its support structure for the 2022-23 academic year after hearing from students and staff that needs weren’t being met consistently. In particular, the complexities that current students face is increasingly challenging for faculty members to know how to handle. On the other hand, students expressed inequity in how they were supported.

This new student support model is a collaborative team approach made up of academic and professional staff, students, all working together to give students clear, actionable guidance. This makes student wellbeing a university-wide initiative and relieves some of the pressures staff were facing earlier, instead spreading out support to multiple areas of campus designed to support all needs from initial outreach to crisis.

The University now has three dedicated roles. First are the student advisers which are a student’s first point of contact and liaise with campus resources to support the student. Second are the wellbeing advisers who staff can refer students to via an online form who are trained in wellbeing support. Lastly, the academic cohort leads who are senior academics who help students adapt to academic life, building relationships, and guiding them on succeeding in their studies.

South Africa: What Are the Barriers for Designing a Wellbeing Model

Services are locally designed per campus. Yet, we know demand is up, students are able to identify how they are feeling and are expecting a particular level of function and style of response. Dr. Schreiber said one must look at what not only prevents students from reaching out, but what enables them to seek support. Dr. Schreiber highlighted that student affairs need to address four lenses of student support from how a student engages with themselves, how they are performing academically, how they are engaging on a social level, and finally how they interact with those around them and if they feel safe. By understanding each of these components of a student in need of support, student affairs can then be better positioned to understand how a student can be supported Dr. Schreiber said.

UC Santa Cruz: Economic Ties to Student Wellbeing

UCSC’s approach addresses how financial aid ties into wellbeing and how students are feeling to meet the financial expectations needed to complete their degree. It is a multi-sectional approach with California’s Basic Needs Alliance which Tim Galarneau noted serves 2.1 million college students across the state. With this model, the UC system identifies meeting the basic needs of students from food insecurity, housing, transportation, technology access, and more.

In that approach, UC communicates what services are available to students and how families need to navigate the cost attendance not only financially, but mentally, emotionally, etc. UC realised they needed to galvanise policy leaders and researchers to shift policy and funding towards how UC approaches wellbeing through this model to “communicate holistically that supporting students in a deeper more fundamental level completes those degrees swifter and leads to greater outcomes of wellbeing.” In a 2019 survey at UC, 79% of students were experiencing loneliness, right before covid, students felt more disconnected than ever before. To address this, UC launched a center for student mental health and wellbeing to address how students are served and what are the other ways an institution can universalise mental health support.

UC identified, through seven years of research, that “It’s really clear that prioritising a student’s basic needs and mental health can improve access, affordability, persistence, academic performance, sense of belonging, time to degree, and graduation rates.”

Global Challenges

What we learned is that while students focus on their degrees, many students face unique challenges to navigating different platforms to get their needs met. In particular, as Andy Shanks said “things aren’t joined up in a macro climate” so navigating the housing, finance, and other platforms can be a challenge for students in need, particularly for international students. To address this challenge, having a student adviser can help a student where a faculty member cannot.

Overall, addressing a student’s “sense of belonging” Dr. Schreiber noted that “it’s one of the key ingredients to make someone stay at university… I don’t worry how long it takes someone to get a degree so long as they stay.” You can identify this by how much a student feels impacted, and someone cares about them, and meeting students where they are at and making sure there are many diverse points of contact for students to have agency in that space.


For the full conversation, watch the recording below! Wish to learn more about how Advocate and Access can enhance your institutional goals to supporting student wellbeing in your office? Contact us at hello@symplicity.com or visit https://www.symplicity.com/uk/globalwellbeingapproaches_ondemand here for more resources and insight.

United States, Advocate, Mental Health, UK, UK students, United Kingdom, Mental Health Support, wellbeing, Student Wellbeing

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