A learning development-faculty collaborative exploration of postgraduate research student mental health in a UK university
Mental ill-health is an escalating problem in higher education. Not only does this impact students’ ability to learn, it can lead to poor completion, with learners opting to withdraw from studies, even if attainment has been satisfactory. The aim of this study was to gain insight about perceptions of poor mental health from postgraduate research students in a diverse UK university and canvas opinion regarding how the University could improve this. A short, pragmatic survey with basic quantitative and qualitative responses was distributed. This was analysed by a team comprising the learning developer responsible for postgraduate researcher learning development, academics and a doctoral student. The study found that poor mental health was evident, with over three quarters of respondents reporting some experience of mental ill-health. We identified five areas in need of attention: University Systems, Supervisor Training, Well-being Monitoring, Building Networks, and Finance. Sources of University-based stress were finance, administrative support, and an environment where a perception that poor mental health was an expectation rather than a problem was experienced. Students preferred to access support outside the academic environment. This is the first study of its kind at a diverse, plate-glass UK university, to consider research student mental ill-health, with a staff-student team working with data, and the learning developer spear-heading changes across postgraduate research. These findings have already influenced university strategy, staff training, and induction practices. The synthesis of the five areas could be used to visualise where further work is needed to improve mental health in these learners.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).