University students are far lonelier than other adults - study

By Branwen Jeffreys & Vanessa Clarke
BBC News

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Taylor JonesImage source, Taylor Jones
Image caption,
Taylor Jones had panic attacks and on one occasion threw up, as a result of how lonely he felt at uni

Almost one in four students are lonely most or all of the time, according to new research.

That is four times worse than the one in 20 adults who said they were similarly lonely in the most recent data for the general population.

The findings on student wellbeing are part of a wider snapshot of experiences of being at university in the UK.

The Higher Education Policy Institute surveyed more than 10,000 students for its annual study.

Taylor Jones threw up and had panic attacks because of how lonely he was in the first three months of university.

"I had people I spoke to in my classes but outside of my classes, I would spend time sitting in the car or sitting in the toilets, waiting for any free time to be over," Taylor told BBC News.

Taylor, now 23, was living with his family and getting the train to campus each day.

He said not living in student accommodation, or with others on his course, made it hard to make friends.

He was left feeling isolated and miserable and soon developed panic attacks, which became so acute that one day he vomited.

"I left halfway through the class and sat in the toilets and just waited for the day to be over so I could go home," he said.

When he asked the university for advice, Taylor says staff told him loneliness was "normal". He soon dropped out of the course due to the lack of support.

A total of 59% of students said they were lonely most of the time, all of the time, or at least once a week. The contrast with the general population could be even more stark, as the data for adults was collected during the pandemic, when loneliness levels were thought to be at their height.

Media caption,
Klaudia moved back home after struggling at university

This year there is a very slight improvement on other measures of student life, with 35% saying their course was good or very good value for money.

This is still lower than before the disruption of the Covid pandemic and reflects continuing concern about the overall cost of being a university student - especially with the recent rise in the cost of living.

The NUS Vice-President for Higher Education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said it was "deeply concerning" that most students didn't feel they were getting value for money.

"We're hearing from students who are working three jobs, can't afford the bus ticket to their university library, and who are cutting back on cooking food to avoid spiralling energy costs" she added.

Universities in England have been under pressure from ministers over the amount of face-to-face teaching.

Across the UK, 38% of students had at least half of their lectures delivered online, but 63% said they were satisfied with their contact hours.

Students also reported frustration at the disruption caused by industrial action by university staff over pensions and working conditions.

Mental health remains a concern, and some universities have increased support.

Taylor has since signed up to a different university and is due to graduate this year.

He met the support team at the University Campus of Football Business in Burnley before he started - and found the smaller university more friendly.

"It felt like a comfort blanket, an arm around my shoulder if I needed it," he said.

"I didn't necessarily need the support but knowing it was there was so helpful."

If you have been affected by any of these issues in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.