A recent survey by educations.com reveals that 60% of prospective students deem a university’s mental health services to be a very important factor when deciding where to study. A striking finding is that half of these students did not consider this to be a very important factor before the Covid-19 pandemic (1).
The increasing importance that prospective students place on mental health services is likely to affect universities that seek to recruit international students, as 80% of respondents plan to study internationally in 2020 or 2021. More than 90% of the students surveyed are from Asia (32%), Europe (24%), Africa (22%) and North America (16%) (1).
The findings on prospective students are in contrast to those on current students. Mental health services become more important for current students once they have travelled abroad to study. Only 32% of current students say that mental health services were very important in their university choice, while 55% of them now believe mental health services to be very important in their international study experience (1).
The majority of current students who have changed their minds about the importance of mental health services have not done so because of the pandemic (74%) – but from their experiences prior to the pandemic (1). This suggests that the pandemic has escalated the priority that prospective students give to mental health services.
Challenges to International Students’ Wellbeing
For universities looking to address barriers to international students’ wellbeing, UKCISA puts forth several common concerns that international students may experience (2):
What Universities Can Do
The NatWest Student Living Index 2020 finds that only 27% of students feel that their university provides adequate mental health support (3). Universities can therefore do more to address students’ mental health concerns.
The University Mental Health Charter identifies international students as one of a number of student groups that may face additional challenges due to structural, personal or cultural inequalities. The Charter recommends universities adopt several principles to support these groups (4):
A co-production approach that encourages active collaboration between institutions and students could be effective in helping universities support international students’ mental health. Michael Priestley’s post “SMaRteN: A Case Study in Co-producing Student Mental Health Initiatives”, describes co-production in action (5).
Mental Health Services that International Students Value
One way that universities can support their international students is to understand the kind of mental health services that students are most interested in. The educations.com survey finds that the most requested service is live online counselling (46%). This is unsurprising given that physical distancing is a key recommended measure in this pandemic. Nevertheless, students are not keen to have all counselling sessions become virtual with 43% stating their preference for in-person counselling. Students also value dedicated discussions covering mental health with peers and faculty (45%) (1).
Supporting International Students During the Pandemic
Mental health support services have become increasingly important to prospective international students in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will impact universities that seek to recruit international students. Universities can address prospective students’ concerns by taking action to support international students’ mental health and wellbeing.
Digital Content Editor for educations.com
(1) Guthrie, S.A. (2020). The Growing Importance of Mental Health in University Choice. Available at:
(2) The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) (2020). Mental health support in the UK. Available at: https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Information--Advice/Studying--living-in-the-UK/Mental-health-support-in-the-UK
(3) NatWest (2020). NatWest Student Living Index 2020. Available at: https://personal.natwest.com/personal/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html
(4) Hughes, G. & Spanner, L. (2019). The University Mental Health Charter. Leeds: Student Minds. Available at:
(5) Priestley, M. (2020). SMaRteN: A Case Study in Co-Producing Student Mental Health Initiatives. Available at: https://www.smarten.org.uk/blog/smarten-a-case-study-in-co-producing-student-mental-health-initiatives
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