A Palatinate investigation has revealed concerns within Durham’s international student community around mental health, University support, and ease of access to teaching and resources for those currently studying abroad during the pandemic.
In a small-scale survey by Palatinate, over 80% of international students agreed that they had experienced an increased level of loneliness during the pandemic. Likewise, just over 90% of those surveyed agreed that they have experienced an increased level of stress during the pandemic.
A student currently working with a five-hour time difference told Palatinate that her situation has had a “noticeable impact” on her mental health: “I think being away in a different time zone, a different country to most of your friends who know exactly what university at Durham is like, can be a really isolating experience”.
“I think it is isolating for [international students] because there’s just functionally less time to talk to [students in Durham] and you feel the distance even if you’re connected online”. This disconnect has left the student concerned that their studies may be “hurt” as the loneliness and stress “keeps [them] from being focussed and motivated.”
This anxiety was shared with 80% of survey participants who expressed worries that their academic achievement has suffered as a result of the pandemic.
Though 55% of international students expressed they had not sought any mental health support during the pandemic, nearly one quarter of those surveyed said they had. The remaining proportion admitted that they had or are currently considering reaching out.
Lauren Kupferschmid, a master’s student from the United States, was one of the international students who has reached out to the University’s counselling service for support. She sought the service after struggling with being away from her family and friends over the winter break.
This experience has left Kupferschmid feeling unsupported by the University: “I did try to reach out to the counselling centre but never heard back. After that I didn’t bother trying again and decided to reach out elsewhere.”
62.5% of those surveyed did not agree when asked if they felt fully supported by the University during the pandemic. Only 17.5% felt that they were, with another 20% remaining neutral.
One student told Palatinate they felt there had been “close to zero support for international students studying remotely” and that there had been “poor communication” from the University surrounding the realities of online learning.
Additionally, the student noticed the disparity between the situation of UK students and those studying abroad: “if you’re in the UK you can access your lecturer’s full working day, you can get resources mailed to you for free. As an international student you’re paying more but you can’t access a lot of those resources which are often brought up as the justification for having high tuition fees.”
The difficulty of working with a substantial time difference when abroad was also raised: “usually what would have been a 9am seminar in the UK was at 4am here for me. I think it was the worst seminar I’ve ever had. For seminars you’re supposed to be really present and have your camera on and talk so it was tougher, it was rough to get up for 4am.”
“The University usually takes a lot of money from the international students. They advertise their experience as being internationally friendly and they actually take pride in Durham’s international students in a way; they take pride in the fact people choose to go there but then as soon as anything like this happens it feels like you get pushed aside”.
This was confirmed by Palatinate’s survey with only 2.5% of students surveyed believing that their tuition fees had been “worth the money” for the university experience they had received during the pandemic. Despite this, when asked whether they regretted their choice to study abroad, 47.5% did not regret their choice and 45% had mixed feelings on the matter.
This deviates from the findings of the International Student Survey 2020, conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). Their survey, which covers 93 different universities, found that “the proportion of prospective international students changing their plans and deferring their entry until next year ha[d] risen exponentially”, with 58% of those surveyed having had their plans to study abroad affected by the pandemic.
Jeremy Cook, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Colleges and Student Experience, said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority. We remain extremely mindful of the impact that Covid-19 restrictions, which are necessary to limit the spread of the virus, have on our University community, and we are committed to supporting those affected through it.”
“Students have access to a range of pastoral support through their colleges and central services such as our counselling team, meanwhile Professional Support Services remain accessible to all international students online and are responding to the need to provide support across different time zones.
Colleges are open and available to all international students and we regularly communicate with all students, offering opportunities to get involved in their communities and informing them of support available.”
Image: Adeline Zhao