By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
The experience of students during the pandemic – including a lack of social interaction and “zoom fatigue” – could increase college dropout rates, a report warned.
College students may find themselves with more wellness issues and fewer vital non-academic life skills after the coronavirus ‘decimated’ the wider college experience, according to the Sutton Trust charity, according to the charity.
There has been a sharp drop in the number of students participating in extracurricular activities in a year when events have largely moved online, with people from low-income backgrounds most affected, according to a survey.
While many students are confronted with another term for distance learning, the survey found that nearly three in four students (70%) this month said they were worried about their mental health and their well-being.
YouthSight’s survey of more than 850 UK undergraduates suggests that one in ten low-income students said they were unlikely to complete the year, compared to 6% of middle-class students .
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which precede the pandemic, show that more than a fifth of young full-time UK students dropped out after their first year at some universities in 2018-19.
Overall, 6.7% of full-time UK students who graduate before the age of 21 did not continue their first year of study in 2018-19.
“Given the challenges facing students this year, there is real concern that dropout rates may increase as a result of the pandemic,” the report said.
Fewer than two in five students (39%) reported participating in student associations or sports in the fall term, and that number has fallen further since Christmas to just 30%, according to the survey.
This figure is significantly lower than before the pandemic, when more than half (54%) of students reported participating in student associations or sport in 2019.
In the fall term of 2020, 29% of students said they did not participate in student societies during the pandemic because they were put off by a lack of social interaction during online activities.
Almost one in four (24%) cited “zoom fatigue” as a barrier because they said they didn’t want to spend more time online after having virtually completed lectures and course content, says The report.
But the biggest concern for students today is getting the skills and work experience needed for a job amid the pandemic, with 76% expressing concern about it, according to the survey.
More students are now living at home during the pandemic, where they are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities, with 58% of students saying they currently live away from campus.
People from less well-off backgrounds are more likely to live at home, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of people from lower-income backgrounds reporting having spent this quarter with family.
The Sutton Trust is concerned that declining access to extracurricular activities and the disproportionate impact on low-income students may have a ripple effect on social mobility to the workplace.
A £ 4.8million scholarship fund is being launched by the charity and JPMorgan Chase with the aim of improving access to employability opportunities for low-income students over a decade.
From this summer, disadvantaged students will be eligible for scholarships of up to £ 5,000 which could cover the costs of an internship, semester abroad or further training.
Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “For many students, additional activities, such as student associations and sports, are as important in shaping their future as their college courses.
“It is a real concern that low-income students are more likely to miss these formative experiences. “
The report comes after university students taking hands-on classes in England were told they could return to campus for in-person instruction starting next month.
But for all the remaining students, the government said it would look into options for students to resume face-to-face lessons by the end of the Easter break.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said about 40% of college students will be able to return for face-to-face instruction from March 8.
A spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK) said: “Universities understand that this has been a difficult time for many students and all universities are making plans to help students have the fullest possible experience at their return to campuses, ensuring that there are additional opportunities to develop outside of their basic learning.
“Universities and career counselors are also creative and innovative, working with companies and mentors to identify ways to help digitally boost employability skills while restrictions persist.
“UUK is discussing with the government how best to work with universities to support this year’s graduates as they enter a tough job market. “
– YouthSight surveyed 904 students between November 13 and 16, 2020. YouthSight then surveyed 887 students between February 5 and 12 of this year.