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Link Between Stress and Belonging Uncovered, and Student Mentors Needed

  • 5 July 2024
  • By Isabelle Bristow
  • This HEPI blog was authored by Isabelle Bristow, Managing Director UK and Europe at Studiosity, a HEPI Partner. Studiosity is a learning technology company, working with 100+ universities globally, serving 1.8 million university students across the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Middle East.

In our last blog, Student Voices on AI: Navigating Expectations and Opportunities, we reported the findings of global research we commissioned with YouGov on students’ attitudes towards artificial intelligence (AI), and in May we hosted a roundtable dinner in London to discuss how important the human touch is in an ‘Age of AI learning’. AI was not the only focus of our extensive study, however, and we also looked at study stress, student experience, connection to other students, academic integrity, and employability.

Here we look in closer detail at other key headline elements of our research, particularly around study stress and connection to other students.

1. Feeling stressed weekly seems to be the norm

In the Student Wellbeing Survey 2024, a third of UK students (33%) reported feeling stressed weekly.

Among 2,422 students surveyed, a further 21% said they were stressed daily and 18% constantly i.e. more than twice a day. The study found that female students aged 18-33 are more stressed across all frequencies, and more noticeably stressed constantly (22%) compared to their male counterparts (12%). 

Interestingly, the number of UK students who feel stressed constantly almost doubles when they also feel like they don’t belong at their institution (30%), compared with students that also feel stressed constantly but do feel like they belong (16%).

Globally, most students reported experiencing stress most commonly on a weekly basis (30%), with Australia and the UK slightly over-indexing (both 33%). However, in the USA, a significantly higher percentage (25%) felt stressed daily, along with Canada (26%).

To support all students whenever and wherever they are making the time to study, university leaders may look to improve the availability of support outside of core university hours.

2. Time, over financial, pressures dominate

The cost-of-living crisis is well documented, with seven out of ten students in employment – and nearly one-quarter of all students working full-time. It is not surprising that the biggest cause of study stress is time pressures, significantly over and above financial pressures.

When asked, the majority of UK students said they are stressed due to not having enough time to balance other commitments (29%) and prepare for exams and assessments (22%).

22% of 18-25-year-old UK male students identified difficult course content as being the primary cause of feeling stressed about study. 10% of international students cited sticking to rules around integrity and plagiarism as the primary cause of being stressed about study, compared to 5% of their domestic student counterparts. Some 9% of students said that paying for their degree/study was their main reason for feeling stressed.

The top three reasons for study stress varied by country, with ‘not having enough time to balance other life commitments’ being significantly higher in Australia (67%) and the UK (66% overall), whilst in Singapore, ‘difficult course content’ dominated (59%). In the UAE, ‘managing more responsibility on my own’ was the most stressful (48%), and the USA also over-indexed on this statement (41%).

Students are clearly struggling to balance their studies with exam and assessment preparations and their other commitments. There were many additional free-text comments from students on stress/study stress, including frequently around home/work/life balance pressures, the volume and pace of course requirements, preparation time, study support provision, perceived inconsistencies in marking, and physical and mental wellbeing issues.

3. A sense of belonging and peer connection

    Overall, 61% of UK students said they feel like they belong in their university, compared with 20% who said they didn’t. 18-25 year old students feel like they belong the most (67%) in their university community.

    Being able to connect with peers and be part of the academic community is a critical part of university life and a facilitator of student success and wellbeing, with personalised peer mentoring correlated with lower reported stress.

    Yet the survey also reports that 69% of UK students do not have access to a senior student mentor, suggesting that leadership can turn their attention to scaling the benefits of peer mentoring to first-year cohorts.

    Access to student mentors can reduce stress. When asked, 40% of students would like to have access to a senior mentor. Almost three-quarters of all female students (73%) don’t have a student mentor, yet 42% would like one. Whilst the percentage of male students that do not have a mentor is lower (62%), their need deficit (26%) is only slightly lower than their female counterparts’ need deficit (31%). 57% of international students would like a mentor. This creates an 11% need deficit from those international students that actually have one. Meanwhile, 52% of students who are constantly stressed would like to have a senior mentor.

    Overall, most students do not have a mentor, and just under half would have liked one. When they started their degree, students in the UK (22%), Australia (23%), and New Zealand (23%) found asking other students questions more difficult compared to other regions.


    Students tell us that they need to work, and therefore need more flexibility and support to help them to thrive. The survey shows the extent to which students need to take paid employment during their studies, with nearly three-quarters of students in part-time and a quarter in full-time work. Inevitably, balancing work and study is a cause of stress and this is an increasing trend.

    A sense of belonging is key to student success. Students report that their experience of feeling stressed is significantly worsened if they also feel “adrift”, and that they don’t belong in their university. They tell us that more personalised, 24/7 assignment and study support would improve their sense of belonging. Confidence in being able to ask for help; flexibility of study; access to mental health support and being able to connect with peers are also important considerations raised in the responses.

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