The University community still has much work to do to improve wellbeing and equality
The Student Union conducted a wellbeing and equality survey in the spring to collect up-to-date information on the wellbeing and equality experiences of the students of the University of Helsinki. We received around 630 responses. Preliminary results reveal that HYY and the University must both work harder to root out the harassment occurring in the University community and resolve the challenges related to wellbeing that the coronavirus pandemic has brought along.
HYY last conducted a wellbeing survey in 2019, and so much has happened during these two years. The challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic were emphasised in the survey responses. Mental health symptoms have increased significantly among students, and 40% of the respondents stated that they had used mental health services within the last 12 months. Another significant change compared to the situation two years ago is related to students’ physical activity. Over 80% of the respondents felt that they would like to do more physical activity than they are currently doing. The closure of sports services such as UniSport during the exceptional situation emerged as the primary factor behind this.
On the other hand, the survey also indicated some positive changes. In 2019, we discovered major shortcomings related to study ergonomics and lecture breaks. The remote era has not provided solutions to the physical strain caused by studies, and an alarmingly large number of the responses mention physical symptoms such as neck and back pain. However, lecture breaks and the possibility of moving around during lectures has advanced well. The remote situation has brought along better break practices as well as provided the opportunity to move around during lectures.
Students’ responses emphasise uncertainty and loneliness during the remote situation. Around 55% of the respondents felt that the level of study guidance during the past 12 months has not been sufficient. At the same time, almost 40% of the students reported that they do not have enough close friends they can talk to. The University community must step up to respond to these challenges together. Some of the aforementioned issues have already been resolved, such as the reopening of UniSport’s gyms. However, the message of students’ loneliness and physical and mental symptoms must be taken extremely seriously.
In terms of equality, we charted the respondents’ experiences of harassment and the realisation of equality. Around 60% felt that equality in the Student Union and at the University is realised either well or extremely well. On the other hand, 7% considered equality at the University to be realised poorly and 1% extremely poorly. The corresponding figures for HYY were 1% for extremely poorly and 2% for poorly. The respondents particularly hoped for a focus on improving ethnic, cultural and linguistic equality as well as accessibility.
Up to 19% of the respondents had experienced harassment, bullying or inappropriate behaviour in the Student Union or an organisation operating under it, and 25% at the University. These results are alarming and require impactful measures to be taken. At HYY, the measures we are planning include training events on antiracism and accessibility as well as the development of our harassment contact person activities. In the autumn, we will also take our results to the University to ensure that the University management and personnel will also take action to improve equality.
We would like to thank everyone who responded to our wellbeing and equality survey. The survey highlighted many things that need to be developed as well as alarming facts. We will call attention to these problems both in the University community and in society to ensure that in the future, everyone feels at home studying at the University of Helsinki.
Tiia Niemi & Matias Takala, specialists in social policy