Resource Data

Student data and AI can combat loneliness on campus

According to a recent survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute, one in four students at UK universities feel lonely most or all of the time. This is more than double that of one in 10 adults in the general population who report experiencing loneliness.

Although the survey was conducted at the end of the pandemic-related disruption to university life, these figures still highlight a considerable challenge for the higher education sector, especially as the cost crisis of life threatens to limit students’ opportunities for socialization.

The survey results also come as a heated debate continues over whether university students receive both a quality education and good value for money, particularly when many, if not all, courses , in some institutions take place online.

But this debate misses a critical point: Some students have loved the flexibility offered by online learning during the pandemic, which has allowed them to study around work or other commitments. Others fell behind, however, because they hadn’t developed the independent learning skills they needed to stay on track, while others admit to suffering from a sense of isolation from their lives. vis-à-vis their tutors and peers, even when they are doing academically.

Many students now relish the experience of attending large in-person conferences, where they can ask lots of questions. Others still find learning in large groups daunting and remain quiet and unnoticed in the back row.

Clearly understanding how students learn best is a key issue. Institutions have begun to address this problem by asking students directly which face-to-face experiences really matter to them and which services could be more effective if delivered digitally.

But there may not be a single answer to these questions. This means that we should no longer ask whether online learning should survive the pandemic, but rather what role it could play in helping to balance support for the academic, emotional and practical needs of students.

A student could do better in their studies if they had the opportunity to learn online on Mondays and Wednesdays when caring for elderly parents or working part-time. Another might feel like they get more out of their course when they attend all the sessions in person.

Meeting such different needs will undoubtedly require careful management in terms of staffing, optimizing the use of available learning spaces and providing remote access to resources. That said, the general direction of travel for the sector is already to move from a prescriptive and uniform university experience to a much more personalized experience, proactively identifying early signs that a student might need additional support, academically, socially or emotionally.

However, this requires a radical change in the way institutions manage student information, bringing together data from across the university – from accommodation, academic departments, libraries and support services, even activities extracurriculars, when possible. If a student suddenly stops accessing recorded lectures, going to the debating society, or attending social gatherings, their teachers and the Student Services team should be automatically alerted. It may not be a cause for concern, but an early point of contact could make all the difference for a student who is struggling to cope and help them get the support they need.

When information is centralized and flows freely and securely between departments, staff can work more efficiently and ensure students have a joint experience from application to graduation. There are also more opportunities for institutions to innovate. For example, technical advances in AI and machine learning could revolutionize the way universities support student well-being and academic progress if there were institutional mechanisms in place to harness them.

Within minutes, it could be possible, for example, to identify if a student who is also an elite athlete is falling behind at certain times of the year because training commitments are putting pressure on their training time. planned learning. This could allow for additional support to be put in place throughout the school year, allowing the athlete to continue to compete alongside their studies.

Universities are institutions of learning and personal growth. Now is the time to rethink how students are supported throughout their higher education journey to achieve both.

Iain Sloan is a Senior Solutions Consultant at Ellucian. He was previously Senior Admissions Officer at Oxford Brookes University.