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Network of student well-being officers create connections

It’s an important theme at the University and beyond: student well-being. Even before coronavirus, research showed that loneliness and the pressure to succeed were causing particular problems for students, and these problems have only increased since the pandemic. Work is underway to improve the situation.

A student well-being officer was recently appointed at each faculty. These faculty well-being officers are close to the students, which makes it easier to organise engaging activities that align with the faculty or a degree programme even. They want there to be more attention and support for the well-being of all the students at the University. On 20 January they held their first bi-weekly meeting to share best practices and work together on student well-being.

Angela van der Lans

Focus on student well-being

Angela van der Lans became the first student well-being officer in August 2020, on the advice of the student well-being taskforce. Her job is to carry out University-wide projects and activities from the student well-being action plan. Angela: ‘My first year was mainly about getting student well-being on the radar at the University. I think that’s been quite successful. More recently we’ve worked on the Well-Being Week, the Well-Being Wednesdays, online information on well-being and presentations and information at open days and introduction weeks. The help on offer to students has also increased to include support groups, group training and buddies.’

 ‘My ultimate aim is that student well-being is no longer just a concept, but that during their studies students learn skills to help them deal with mental-health problems.’ 

The team working on student well-being has increased considerably and Angela’s role has grown into that of Student Well-Being Programme Manager. Coordinating with the faculties on the further implementation of the action plan is really important, and that is why each faculty also has a well-being officer.

The Student Well-Being symposium for staff will be held soon. Angela: ‘The symposium is for staff who are in contact with students because we want to get the message across that everyone who works with students can do their bit. There’ll be practical tips, for instance how you can see if a student isn’t doing well, how to ask coaching questions and where you can refer a student to if they are experiencing problems.’

Laura van der Plas

Pilots in The Hague

Some of the faculty well-being officers combine this role with another one, study adviser for example, but Laura van der Plas doesn’t: she is student well-being officer for all the teaching at Campus The Hague. She has had the job for two months and set to work immediately: ‘In The Hague there was already preliminary research into diversity and inclusion as well as student well-being because these are important topics. So I could set to work straight away. We are starting various pilots in The Hague that can then be adopted in Leiden if they go well. I have now defined six projects that align with the five focus areas for student well-being.’

Laura’s goals are, on the one hand, to communicate what student well-being support there already is, so that students know where to turn. And on the other hand, she aims to create additional offerings: ‘One of the projects is Act of Kindness. We are going to turn a pillar at Wijnhaven into a kind of classified ads board. People can hang up notes with small acts of kindness, such as offering a good book, inviting others for a cup of coffee or to walk the dog. The idea is that these small gestures will show that we are a community and can help one another.’

Back in 2019, a student well-being plan had already been developed that tied in with the five focus areas for student well-being. These are awareness, prevention and early detection, available support and psychological intervention, development of expertise, and connection and a safe study climate. These focus areas form the basis of the plans and projects for student well-being that are now being developed and carried out.

Ellis van Spanje

Connections with the teaching

Ellis van Spanje, student well-being officer at the Faculty of Humanities, also has plans: ‘There is already a lot in the field of well-being, but the options are fragmented. I’m going to spend the coming period doing my best to bring everything together and communicate this to students so they know which help is available where. I am also going to work on concrete initiatives, like the option of expanding the Humanities Buddies Programme, where groups of students are matched with an older student from the same discipline. To highlight today’s pressure to succeed I want to continue a project from last year about realistic role models.’

Ellis is clear about what she wants to have achieved in a year’s time: ‘We can’t solve all the problems within a year, but I hope that student well-being will have become a structural thing and that it is visible throughout the organisation. It would also be nice if we didn’t just work on separate initiatives but also made a connection with the teaching.’

Angela also looks forward to making this connection with the teaching: ‘My ultimate aim is that student well-being is no longer just a concept, but that during their studies students learn skills to help them deal with mental-health problems.’  And that it is normal to talk about this with others.’

The well-being officers are funded through the National Programme for Education  (NPO). In 2021 the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science made this extra funding available to counter the adverse effects of the coronavirus crisis in education. This funding has been divided between primary schools, secondary schools and vocational and higher education institutions. A number of themes have been defined for the use of the funds. Within these themes, the institutions are free to decide how to spend the funds. The NPO funding will be spent in 2021 and 2022.

Text: Lisanne Bos

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