Strengthening student well-being

An important condition for a successful study progress and an essential value for inclusive higher education is paying attention to the mental well-being of students. During the pandemic, the mental well-being of students is under pressure. In collaboration with the higher education institutions and the Flemish Student Association (VVS), SIHO is coordinating the project 'Strengthening student well-being' on behalf of vice prime minister Ben Weyts.

The project has three objectives:

  1. Strengthen and increase cooperation in the student cities between higher education institutions and regional services through liaison officers;

  1. Develop a central platform 'student wellbeing' with information and awareness materials on mental health and psychological complaints and an online e-health offer for students;

  1. The creation of a learning network for higher education institutions in which expertise on mental well-being and inclusive higher education is continuously and sustainably shared and promoted.

Strengthening and increasing cooperation in student regions between higher education institutions and regional services through liaison officers

Higher education institutions in Flanders have built up extensive expertise in the psychosocial counseling of students. Higher education institutions work on prevention and wide support of mental resilience (e.g., group trainings around fear of failure, mindfulness or social skills). Individual counseling, especially for short interventions and first-line counseling, is usually included within the educational institutions. Where necessary, referrals are made to specialized therapists outside the institution, who can set up longer guidance programs.

In the major student cities there are also collaborations between higher education institutions. Sometimes cooperation in the field of mental health care is still in development, but most of such support networks are already working systematically with each other and with specialised care providers on mental support. The aim of these collaborations is to promote an integrated policy of resilience and mental wellbeing for all students, by joining forces, expertise and competencies while maintaining autonomy. In doing so, a positive, non-stigmatising approach is taken to the wellbeing of the student by connecting, informing and advising.

Through the commission of liaison officers 'Student wellbeing' in major student regions, this project aims to strengthen the bridges between higher education institutions in the context of promoting mental wellbeing. The liaison officers connect not only the educational institutions, but also local authorities, actors in primary care and welfare and student associations. The student is actively involved so that initiatives can grow from their perspective.

The tasks of the liaison officer focus on four pillars: (1) supporting the educational institutions in coping with the increased mental health needs of students in the aftermath of the corona pandemic; (2) building and coordinating a regional network of relevant partners around mental wellbeing for the higher education institutions; (3) conducting a regional environmental analysis of good practices and gaps in student wellbeing and (4) providing support in preparing and setting up the student wellbeing learning network.

The environmental analysis carried out by the various liaison officers will result in a comprehensive report with an overview of good practices (social map) in Flanders and will contain recommendations for a concrete action plan to approach the identified needs.

Developing a central student well-being platform

The project also aims to develop an interactive 'student wellbeing platform' that can easily be embedded in the SIHO website. The centralized platform will offer relevant information on mental health and psychological complaints of students in higher education (awareness) in an easily accessible way, as well as an overview of existing projects and contact points. Furthermore, the platform will also include an online e-health support offering to sharpen and/or improve students' mental health skills.

Technology can provide a new access point for students seeking mental health care. E-health or digital mental health includes information about mental health and education, and offers interventions via internet sites, video, chatbots and mobile apps. These interventions can be offered alone or in consultation with professional support. The technologies are convenient and very accessible. In addition, they offer complete privacy, which reduces some forms of stigmatization, especially for students who do not like to use personal services. For students who have difficulty adapting to the university, digital technologies that apply the principles of positive psychology can help increase resilience, happiness and wellbeing. Some tools offer online interventions as individual exercises and offer users daily sets of activities.

Setting up a Flemish learning network

This project aims to anchor the expertise built up by setting up a sustainable learning network for representatives of 'student wellbeing initiatives within higher education institutions, the wider network of professionals, as well as professionals from higher education institutions who wish to focus on student wellbeing with the purpose of continuously promoting their expertise in student wellbeing.