Unlimited Wi-Fi, good infrastructure, food options and a safe environment are factors that contribute to student wellbeing at the University of Pretoria (UP), a survey has revealed.
The survey, which was led by Professor Irma Eloff from UP’s Department of Education Psychology, was conducted in the first semester of 2018, based on face-to-face interviews with 2 480 students. It was conducted by a group of postgraduate students across five UP campuses, with Dr Sumari O’Neill and Dr Herbert Kanengoni from Industrial Psychology as co-researchers. It was based on an in-depth theme analysis.
Prof Eloff explained that in 2017, the UP Executive requested a representative survey on student wellbeing. “The executive recognises the importance of student wellbeing, and the survey was required for scientific research that would inform strategic decisions by the university in this regard.”
She defines wellbeing along two traditions: The hedonic tradition, which explores wellbeing as feelings, and the eudemonic tradition, which views wellbeing as a relational activity and a long-term practice of ‘being well’.
Well-being student researchers
The project was initiated by the Office of Vice-Principal: Academic, Professor Norman Duncan as part of the [email protected] initiative, and Prof Eloff trained 36 social work and psychology honours and master’s students to conduct a random survey of students. The student researchers were trained in ethical research conduct, data collection, wellbeing research in the world and being a field worker.
Respondents were asked the following question: “What contributes to your wellbeing as a student at the University of Pretoria?” The responses were collected via written questionnaires and the results were definitive. “Quality learning environment, a beautiful campus, good lecture halls, supportive, well-prepared lecturers; and diversity in the university community,” were the themes that emerged, said Prof Eloff.
Since the interviews were done face-to-face, there was spontaneity and authenticity in the responses.
What was clear was that apart from the University’s Psychological Services and the Department of Student Affairs playing an important role in student wellbeing, administrative and academic staff members also contributed.
Some responses included:
“The atmosphere, as well as the ability to sit under a tree between classes to de-stress or to sit in the library and do work all add to my wellbeing and helps me to keep a level-head throughout the day and manage my studies.”
“The help we can easily get from tutors or lecturers. We have access to the library and can contact lecturers any time. The Wi-Fi on campus helps with studies and research.”
“Friends. Mentors. Tutors. Cleanliness.”
“The fact that the security is tight and I feel safe when I am on campus, makes me concentrate more on my studies, I don’t have to worry about safety but I only have to worry about my studies.”
“Lecture time flexibility, lectures, library and computer labs, food options.”
“Being able to learn in an inclusive environment, which allows me to be a true representation of myself.”
“The fact that I can see a psychologist whenever I have stress or when I am under pressure with my school work. Unlimited Wi-Fi to help with my school work as well as social life. Student support for career choices. Having doctors and nurses around campus for whenever I am not feeling well.”
“The security at the university makes me feel secure and safe, which contributes to my peace of mind, hence I can concentrate on my studies. The different projects in the university, such as the mentorship programme, make things easier. I know I’m not alone, hence my psychological being is at rest.”
“Tranquil space, lovely gardens, comfortable safe environment. Sleep pods would be nice to have in order for nap freaks. International environment makes one feel at home. The student and lecturers are very helpful and motivating.”
Prof Eloff said students mentioned that the [email protected] campaign, which encourages students to finish their degrees on time, was also a contributor to wellbeing.
Meanwhile, feedback was provided to individual faculties and to TuksRes, and a recommendation is that UP’s focus should be on strengthening existing initiatives that support student wellbeing. “We should focus on holistic wellbeing. International studies in wellbeing point to the importance of good relationships. We need to build trust and create even more opportunities to interact together informally. Staff and students can spend time together beyond the lecture halls.”
In 2018, the student researchers were presented with Wellbeing Ambassador Certificates by Prof Duncan for their contribution to the study, while their participation provided them with insight into developing research careers in the helping profession.
Phase two of the Wellbeing project focuses on exploring the reasons why certain factors support student wellbeing. A team of social science researchers is currently conducting the analysis from phase two.
The United Nations has “proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the wellbeing of all peoples.”
Prof Eloff says that human wellbeing is central to sustainable development, and university students are the leaders and visionaries of the future. “It is therefore important that they go out into the world with the skills to improve their own personal wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of those around them.”
Prof Duncan said: “There exists a strong reciprocal relationship between student wellbeing and student success. An enhanced sense of wellbeing can increase students’ chances of academic success, and the greater the level of students’ success, the greater the chances of an enhanced sense of wellbeing.”