Ghent University (BELGIUM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2021 Proceedings
Publication year: 2021
Pages: 2797-2805
ISBN: 978-84-09-34549-6
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2021.0702
Conference name: 14th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 8-9 November, 2021
Location: Online Conference
Mental well-being of university students is gaining increasing awareness. First-year students are considered a very vulnerable group in this regard. This observation resonates even louder in times of Covid-19, as the student transition from secondary to higher education is characterised by additional emotional and practical obstacles. Students are obliged to follow their classes online; consequently, they miss out on building and maintaining social relationships. The measures to contain the pandemic induce loneliness, emotional exhaustion, and psychological distress. This paper studies the impact of Covid-19 on the mental well-being, academic self-confidence, feeling of informedness, and self-efficacy of first-year university students (N = 997). The study was conducted in a first-year undergraduate programme of business economics at a large Western European university. Quantitative survey data were collected at four moments during a covid-affected academic year (2020-2021, N = 504), which enables within-subjects analyses. Moreover, the design includes between-subjects analyses, as the data are compared with a pre-covid sample of the same student population (2019-2020, N = 493). At the start of a covid-affected academic year, the pandemic-related restrictions made no significant difference to the mental well-being, academic self-confidence, and feeling of informedness of first-year students. The summer holidays might have contributed to the students’ mental recovery and coping mechanisms, despite the turbulent completion of their secondary education due to the pandemic. However, after three weeks of university courses, a lower level of mental well-being is observed among students in the face of Covid-19, compared to the pre-pandemic sample. Moreover, longitudinal analyses reveal certain impairments in mental well-being and self-efficacy following the implementation of pandemic containment measures, which demonstrates the imperative role of these restrictions. The results of this paper have theoretical and practical implications for university educators who seek to comprehend the experiences of first-year students, six months to a year after the initial outbreak of the virus. Furthermore, reluctance and caution are advised towards the implementation of distance learning as a default teaching method post-pandemic. Ultimately, the scholarly attention paid to student mental well-being should not fade away after the pandemic will have passed. The findings of this study underline the value of targeting all generations of first-year students to come during their transition to higher education, by supporting and ensuring their mental well-being, academic self-confidence, feeling of informedness, and self-efficacy. This is of paramount importance to enhance students’ adaptation to university and, indirectly, their academic success.
Covid-19, first-year students, higher education, mental well-being, self-efficacy, student transition.