A report on students, by students

In May of 2019 Unite Students – the UK’s largest student accommodation provider – surveyed 2,500 students from across the UK to tell us all about their lives, right now.

We also joined forces with a handful of students to take a deeper look at the study results, unpick the trends and discuss if they echo or contradict their own experiences.

The result is this report, designed to give you an insight into the lives of students. Riki, Max, Becca and Asher (pictured) have been involved in the production of this report and are instrumental in ensuring you get a true reflection of what student life is really like in 2019. You can hear more from them on the various topics in the podcasts below.

The 2019 student experience and how we view success

Although doing well on our course is important, we feel that what makes us successful goes way beyond that. Being independent and developing skills for our future career are just as important.

Despite being the most digitally native university cohort to date, we don’t want to live our entire lives online. We crave a distinctly personal and human experience at university. We value learning offline and if given the choice, would opt for getting out on campus and engaging in face-to-face learning formats over digital offerings that, in theory, could be done from our beds in our PJs!

However, if face-to-face lectures were discontinued, we'd like them replaced with seminars, digital resources and other ways of working entirely

What we eat and drink

Like with our physical appearance, we carefully consider what we put in our bodies and make choices on our diet in line with our ethics and health, as well as our taste preferences.

Why are we going to university?

"A successful student is someone who balances everything well. You don’t want to be inside studying ALL the time, you need to meet new people and have new experiences as well as studying hard.

"You want to find that balance between studying and socialising so you can be happy with the social aspect of university but also be happy that you actually tried and not regret that you wasted all the time and money just to make friends."

- Becca

"In terms of making Freshers’ Week better, it’s about removing the ‘week’ aspect of it, and the hype and pressure of expecting it to be the best, most fun experience of your life to date. When did you ever have the best week of your life where everything was amazing?

"It’s unrealistic and of course that will set you up for disappointment. It’s a settling in period and one week can’t influence the rest of your time at university."

- Max

Our first week at uni: Freshers’ Week

It’s great that participation has been widened to give more of us an opportunity to enjoy higher education but some of us are still underwhelmed by the experience.

On average, we ranked our Fresher’s Week experience this year as 6.5 out of 10. Given the investment of time, money and emotion we are making, this wasn’t quite the “wow” we were expecting.

 

 

You might imagine we spend the week partying, drinking, clubbing and staying as far away from the uni library as possible, but that’s actually not the case. It’s not all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

So what exactly did we get up to?

A much smaller minority of us were doing the stereotypical things some might expect...

"We want to connect with people and share our experience of university with fellow students. That's when we are happiest." -Max

Students that enjoyed Freshers’ Week the most were those who had a lot of human contact, taking part in activities such as sharing a meal, going to a party, joining a society and making new friends.

Our social lives – societies and friends

Student societies are still a big part of university life in 2019. This year, on average, each student signed up to two societies, with a quarter of students signing up to three or more.

This shows a good majority of us do want to formally build our peer networks in this way and carefully consider and select which networks we join.

And it’s interesting to see what kinds of students are drawn to particular societies, with the majority membership coming from distinct backgrounds and communities.

 

And societies make us feel happier! Those students who were actively involved in a society reported feeling 5% more satisfied in life than average.

However 36% of students didn’t sign up to a society at all with half of those saying it was too much of a time commitment. Given the correlation between joining societies and happiness, this seems like something we should be telling fellow students!

Our ideology. Our ethics. Our values.

What do we care about and what’s it like to be studying in a post Brexit referendum world today?

Despite popular student stereotypes, we aren’t all radical revolutionaries. Although, of the established parties, Labour appears to resonate most, the largest grouping – accounting for nearly a quarter of respondents – was “I don’t know.”

"You have to remember Universities are research facilities, educational facilities, they aren't your GP. There is a lot of negative press about how terrible uni's are at not supporting their students when in truth there is a lot of support out there and it's about getting students to access that support.

"Sometimes people can over pathologise their issues and actually you can chat to friends about your day-to-day struggles and feel better. Feeling anxious and depressed does not mean that you have anxiety or depression. It's totally normal to feel bad for short periods of time. It's part of life and in those situations it's great to be able to turn to your friends. First port of call for general day-to-day problems that students face should be friends. People should utilise the support networks they have."

- Asher

"I've noticed the increased level of individual anxiety over things like how you dress and are you looking like you're having a good time? It's to do with social media and Instagram.

"I notice people beginning the night by taking photos and obsessing about whether they look good. I've been on nights out and seen people spend the whole night videoing the experience. And not living in the moment. When we put something on Instagram, why are we doing it really? It's strange really when you think about it and we all act like we are not posting it for the likes, be we do! We all do it!"

- Riki

What we look like and our identity

You might think we came to university and within the first few weeks radically changed how we looked, but we didn’t. When we arrived in October 2018, we had already carefully considered our physical appearance and how we present ourselves to the world. That said, we are continually evolving who we are and how we express our identity, but this is a gradual evolution over the course of time.

Why do we make these choices? When it comes to make-up, hair dye and other body modifications, both sexes do this to appear more attractive. However, we see a difference in motivations for tattoos and piercings where generally males curate their looks to appear more attractive while females do so to express their identity.

What we really want to tell you...

If you’ve got an interest in the life of a particular student; perhaps a family member or mentee, or you work with students and care about us generally, these are the things we really want you to know. There are lots of stereotypes about us, based on students from previous generations that still exist today and just aren’t true in 2019.

1. We aren’t all out partying and drinking. In fact we are very health conscious with 1 in 6 of us proudly teetotal. We like to spend our time doing way more interesting things.

2. Don’t call us lazy – we aren’t all bunking lectures and sleeping-in ‘til the afternoon. We are very driven and have clear ambitions and goals for our future: financial stability and a job we are passionate about are key motivations for us to work hard.

3. Despite being digital natives, we don’t want to live our entire life online. When given the choice of learning formats, our preference is for face-to-face over digital offerings. We want to learn from inspirational humans while being in the same room as them. That’s a physical room, not a chat room!

4. Despite wanting a human experience of university, we aren’t all out sleeping around like some stereotypes suggest. More of us were attending lectures and meeting new people than were having sex, so please put that myth to bed!

5. When it comes to politics these days, we feel as uncertain as everyone else. We aren’t all radical revolutionaries and right now at least, we are turning away from traditional political parties and politics in general because we don’t feel confident that we know enough about it.

Download The Student Yearbook 2019

We asked our student writers to reflect on the biggest themes in their lives as students of 2019. Go to The Common Room to see what they have to say.

The Common Room