Mental Well-Being in UK Higher Education During Covid-19: Do Students Trust Universities and the Government?
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This paper draws upon the concept of recreancy to examine the mental well-being of university students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Briefly, recreancy is loss of societal trust that results when institutional actors can no longer be counted on to perform their responsibilities. Our study of mental well-being and recreancy focuses on the role of universities and government regulators within the education sector. We surveyed 600 UK students attending 161 different public higher education providers in October 2020 during a time when many UK students were isolated in their residences and engaged in online learning. We assessed student well-being using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (scored 7–35) and found the mean score to be 19.9 [95% confidence interval (CI) 19.6, 20.2]. This level of well-being indicates that a significant proportion of UK students face low levels of mental well-being. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis indicates that high recreancy—measured as a low trust in universities and the government—is associated with low levels of mental well-being across the student sample. While these findings are suggestive, they are also important and we suggest that government and university leaders should not only work to increase food and housing security during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also consider how to combat various sector trends that might intensify recreancy.