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OUSU rejects happiness survey’s findings

Tevjan Pettinger
Tevjan Pettinger

OUSU’s Vice President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities Sandy Downs has rejected Edith Hancock’s statement that Oxford students are “the most miserable” in the UK.

Reported by the Oxford Student, Hancock’s article appeared last Sunday on the website of Metro. Its main claim is that the pressure of studying in one of the most prestigious universities in the world boils down to a dismal existence for its students.

It refers to a recent Student Living survey by the accommodation provider Sodexo where, after acknowledging that Oxford students work hard “with 56% of people claiming they attend every single lecture and seminar”, it is implied that their diligence comes at a cost. In fact, according to the survey, 22% of Oxford students regret enrolling, and 65% usually miss lectures because of lack of sleep.

In a statement to the Oxford Student, OUSU’s Vice President Sandy Downs has firmly turned down these claims. She asserts that the Student Living survey carried out by Sodexo is absolutely not fit to describe attitude and perceptions of people at Oxford University.

“With a sample size of just 17 students from Oxford, the statistics quoted by Hancock are unreliable and unrepresentative of the Oxford student body”, she said.

Moreover, she was keen to stress that only 50% of the 17 students surveyed by Sodexo are enrolled at Oxford University, with the rest being students of Oxford Brookes. By extension, she argues that it is unlikely that the mental health of Oxford students can be significantly described by a sample size of around 8.5 people.

“It is unlikely that the mental health of Oxford students can be significantly described by a sample size of around 8.5 people”

Drawing upon the conclusions from the OUSU’s 2016 welfare survey, Downs also emphasised that “68% of students reported feeling happy most or all of the time”. This survey, she was keen to highlight, is far more reliable given that it is based on around 6000 individual respondents.

Downs recognises that there are margins for improvement and declares that both OUSU and the University staff are working towards a stable and continuous amelioration of the wellbeing of the student body. Nonetheless, she also points out that claiming that Oxford students are “the hardest working in the UK, but they’re also the most miserable” is an unjustified stretch.

What is interesting is that in the OUSU’s 2016 welfare survey evidence about students’ wellbeing is contradictory. Downs is nominally correct in her argument that 68% of undergrads reported to be happy most or all of the time – though dropping below 60% when it comes to graduate students – and it is also true that 79% and 49% of undergraduates reported to feel respectively welcome at Oxford and confident most or all of the time.

However, 32% of graduates reported feeling anxious most or all of the time, 14% of undergraduates reported feeling lonely or isolated, and 28% of graduates in taught courses claimed to feel overwhelmed. More than 40% of the overall students in the survey reported to feel stressed. Moreover, the majority of undergraduates and graduates recognise that their mental health has deteriorated while studying at Oxford University.

“Women were twice as likely as men to feel stressed, while men were 1.3 times more likely than women to report feeling welcome”

Even more strikingly, in every aspect of the survey, answers exhibit a high degree of variability based on specific demographics. Chronically ill undergraduates, for example, were 2.24 times more likely to state that they feel anxious, while LGBTQIA+ undergraduates were 1.9 times. International students, both EU and non-EU, were twice as likely as home students to be diagnosed with depression during their stay at Oxford. Moreover, women were twice as likely as men to feel stressed, while men were 1.3 times more likely than women to report feeling welcome.

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