Why do students at TU/e feel lonely, and what factors play a role in their loneliness? These were the questions Van Rensch was asked to focus on by TINT last year. The signals of loneliness weren’t picked up by TINT alone (for instance through events), but also by student psychologists, among others.
Almost 120 students answered her questions on this subject through a questionnaire, and she also spoke more extensively to a number of students. The sample survey isn’t entirely representative, Van Rensch says – for that, she would have needed more responses from students, “but it’s quite a reliable indication to start with.”
Her most notable conclusion is that Dutch students don’t experience loneliness more frequently or less frequently than international students. Van Rensch: “That really was 50/50. During talks at the university, I noticed that everybody always assumes that students who didn’t grow up here are much lonelier. But that isn’t the case, as it turns out.”
What Van Rensch also learned from her research, is that more than half of the students she surveyed sometimes, or often, feel lonely. Furthermore, her research showed that social support from friends seems to be more important than support from family. And: the male students in her research proved to experience loneliness (slightly) more often than women. When asked what factors play a role in experiencing or not experiencing loneliness, the surveyed students mentioned, not very surprisingly, close relationships and the quality of these relationships.
The psychologist is currently conducting a follow-up study with TINT. “And we are in contact, university wide, with staff members who might help us with this. It might result in an advice to the Executive Board.”
Van Rensch, who currently works for TINT as a loneliness researcher, says that tackling this issue is not easy. “Quite a lot is being done about it at TU/e already, but what works for one student, doesn’t necessarily help other students break free from loneliness as well. Some people experience loneliness more quickly than others. Some students, for example, travel from far and have a great time here, whereas others might live at a ten-minute distance from the university and still feel lonely.”
TU/e offers several initiatives to combat loneliness. Groep-één׀ESR recently took the initiative to address the issue of wellbeing with various parties campus wide – and loneliness is a part of that as well.