I am pretty confident that the most frequently “deleted unread” all-staff emails at the moment are those titled “Well-being”. For the past two years, across all sectors, including higher education, these messages have proliferated like the coronavirus itself. Advice includes reminders to eat broccoli, to exercise regularly and to listen to birdsong. The latest epistle I received delivered the shattering news that “not being physically active can increase our risk of developing heart or circulatory diseases and diabetes”.
Mental health and wellbeing
We all understand the value of collaboration. New experiences and perspectives from colleagues and students help to challenge our ways of thinking, driving us to create and share knowledge in more impactful ways. But collaborating with people outside your university sphere can add equal, and perhaps even more, value.
Public engagement spans activities from inspiring audiences through talks, exhibitions or festivals; consulting through surveys, focus groups or citizen juries; or shared decision-making and working with the public as partners.
Leaving home and moving to a new country on your own is a big step for anyone. Studying abroad is something students often plan and look forward to for years; nevertheless, many are surprised when they experience culture shock for the first time. The differences in how people speak, eat, work and socialise can be overwhelming, and it is reassuring to know this experience is completely normal and temporary.
Long before the pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities within higher education, foresighted university leaders had started to see value in improving the psychological well-being of foreign students. Struggling with unique stressors such as language barriers, perceived discrimination, acculturation stress and untreated mental health issues, international students have always been vulnerable.
This past year has emphasised the value of community. In higher education, many students and instructors struggled with a sense of isolation from their peers and colleagues when institutions adopted remote and virtual settings at the start of the pandemic. While academic advisers are not often in the spotlight, they play a vital role in bridging the gap between student and institution and in helping students feel part of a broader learning community. Feeling connected – that is, being “seen” and “heard” – is critical to student success.
Play is a fundamental way in which we learn. Long before children encounter formal educational methods, they play, learning new skills and behaviours along the way.
As a formalised style of play, games are well suited to education. They are inherently engaging and have built-in reward structures and variable levels of difficulty. Furthermore, many games encourage cooperation, group work and the development of communication and problem-solving skills. For these reasons, games are used extensively in early years education.
Saying no is a difficult academic skill − and one that shows maturity. A previous dean of mine used to ask the same question in every promotion interview to join the professorial level: “Can you name one thing to which have you said ‘no’ lately?” But academics and researchers should not wait until this point in their careers to start practising this mystical art form.
When a home is constructed from stone, the cornerstone is the first stone to be laid. It orients the placement of all that follows. It can’t be added on later. The same is true of a pedagogy of kindness. It can’t be a checklist that is pasted over a syllabus that already exists – it needs to be foundational to course design and central to an instructor’s teaching practice.
Most people spent the first 500 days of the coronavirus pandemic on activities rather different from those they’d originally intended. But with something approaching an end in sight (in the wealthy West, at least) thanks to vaccination programmes, we might expect people’s activities to become increasingly “normal”.
The time a student spends at university is often a transformative period of their life.
For most, it is the start of a journey that will lead them to expand their horizons, develop new skills and, hopefully, embark on their desired career. It is a period of self-learning, where students can equip themselves with soft skills that will enable them to thrive throughout life – professionally and personally.