Combating student loneliness with technology

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As this year’s college cohorts embark on undergraduate life, they will have a number of expectations; become more independent, acquire new skills and qualifications and meet new people.

This year has seen a record number of young people seeking university places, with 311,000 18-year-olds applying for courses, 10% more than the previous record of 281,000 in 2020.

This is fantastic news, especially after all the uncertainty surrounding COVOD. The problem is, too many of these young people are not having the experience they hope for. According to a recent study, a quarter of students feel lonely “often or always” and one in six university students say they have no “real friends”. More than half of UK students say they are dissatisfied with their social experiences during the pandemic.

I know how they feel: a few years ago, I left for college, full of optimism and excitement. The reality – being stuck in a tiny apartment with very different people and having an accident that left me temporarily confined to the house – meant that I was alone, isolated and that in the end my sanity really took a hit. suffered.

And that’s the problem. While college is of course about getting degrees, we all know it is also about developing as a person, meeting new people and making new friendships. The social aspect of college is huge and can really shape a person’s future.

So what has changed?

Accommodation

University-owned dorms were traditionally the first place to meet your undergraduate fellows when they arrived at the university.

However, even before COVID, rising rental costs and increasing student numbers impacted the number of people living in dorms. In 2019/20, of the 1.9 million students in the UK, the largest share of students – 569,000 – were in other rented accommodation. Only 175,000 were in private sector theaters. The number of undergraduate students in the UK, meanwhile, fell from around 8% in the early 1990s to around 21% in 2018-19.

Increase in expenses

Student loans now total £ 17 billion for around 1.3 million students each year – and that in England alone. The increase in tuition, living and travel costs add up. Save the Student has conducted research which found that the average amount students spend on going out and socializing is just £ 47 per month. One in seven students now work part-time while studying, further reducing their time to make friends.

Variety of courses

There are now over 50,000 undergraduate courses at over 395 providers across the UK – a fantastic choice, but certainly a contributor that could prevent people from forming a strong bond: with so many courses there is less potential repeat meetings. My joint specialty course meant I was running from conference to conference with different people in each session – there was less consistency. This could make it more difficult for some people to initiate conversations and make friends.

Social media

Young people spend their time socializing and sharing content on social media: 82% on YouTube, 76% on Instagram and 79% on WhatsApp. These same platforms, while enriching our lives in many ways, also contribute significantly to feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. At the start of a new academic term, they will be full of people sharing images of their new social life and their friends, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and unhappiness among those who don’t have the same “amazing” experience – this which is exactly what happened to me. .

Technology must therefore be a factor in creating new connections. Meeting new people is normally done online for young people, not face to face, and student unions, Fresher’s Weeks and university communications need to reflect this. It must be adopted and operated effectively.

As life situations, disposable income, complex prices and changing trends change to potentially reduce some of the chances of making initial face-to-face contact, the approach should be one that combines platforms and social apps with real-life events and experiences, using tech to first bond between people and then entice them to meet.

Friendship is a crucial part of our mental health. As MentalHealthorg.co.uk says: “Our friends can keep us down to earth, help us put things in perspective and help us deal with the challenges life throws at us. The foundation warned of the increase in mental health problems among college students in recent years.

By embracing technology and using it to transform traditional social situations, we can bring young people closer together, help them make friends and be in better mental health – and, ultimately, enjoy rewarding college experiences. that they deserve.


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