During the Covid pandemic, the effects of remote studying was a topic of vigorous public debate. The experiences of young people during the pandemic were marked by loneliness and concerns about the standard of learning and their general wellbeing. The plight of higher education students attracted a lot of interest, because we realised that university studies is not just about learning your chosen subject. During studies, young adults also learn to become increasingly independent, interact more extensively and build up social and professional networks. Between 2020 and 2022, an entire generation of students was in danger of being left without these experiences.
The results of the Tracking the Effects of Remote Teaching study commissioned by SYL were reported in the early autumn. They confirm many of fears about remote studying during the pandemic. Two-thirds of the respondents reported a decline in their wellbeing and ability to study during the period. Support from the university community was often scarce, making support from family, hobbies and friends all the more important. During the period when students were forced to study remotely, many reported a decline in their social skills, especially when working in multidisciplinary groups, and in networking and presentation skills. A quarter of the respondents was also concerned about whether their learning during this difficult period would be adequate once they entered working life. The comfort and meaningfulness of remote studying divided opinion.
For many students, remote studying had a negative effect on both physical and mental wellbeing. Although the convenience of being able to study independently of place and time did make everyday life easier in some respects, it was also a burden to many. In future, remote teaching must be carried out in a pedagogically effective way. It is important to offer flexible ways to study, but due to its importance to the development of students’ interaction skills, contact teaching must still have priority. Remote study should only be considered a complementary form of study. It is also important to offer teaching staff opportunities for developing their digital teaching skills.
Students were under considerable strain even before the pandemic, and university counselling and support services were crucial in remedying this. Funding for improving the wellbeing of higher education students should be continued, as it would enable universities to develop their own support and counselling services to suit their specific needs. Another matter that must be addressed is tutoring. Students should have the opportunity to discuss their goals at least once a year with their tutor, and no student should have to wait more than a month if they need to see a study psychologist.
Finland’s last lockdown ended in 2022, and although society has moved on to the post-Covid phase, at least psychologically, the marks of remote studying are still fresh. Fortunately, student wellbeing was being tackled already during the pandemic. But even though restrictions are now in the past, we must remember that a lot still needs to be done to make life better for students.