Investigating the mental health and wellbeing of global access students

Blog for members
18 May 2020
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As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we present the findings of the University of Edinburgh’s research into mental health and wellbeing of global access students.  

In the first year of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars programme the team noted that students’ transition to study and live in the UK was often difficult. Using UKCISA grants funding they researched the challenges that the scholars go through. It highlighted a number of themes that are useful for us all to remember, so please send this link to any colleagues working with students from outside the UK.

Attitudes towards counselling and psychological wellbeing 

‘So you always feel like, “I have to be strong, I have to put on a happy face, I have to act as if I am brave’.

The team discovered that counselling was not a popular service and that it’s surrounded by negative resonances and stereotypes in many of the participants’ respective countries of origin. Prejudice and stigma about mental health remains and counselling is often perceived as ‘a sign of weakness.’

The research also highlighted the tendency for scholars to keep emotional distress private, by isolating themselves from others, even when they were trying to cope with very challenging emotional situations.

Being part of a minority group

‘It’s odd to think that if I missed a lecture, the lecturer noticed because simply there’s no black person in the room.’

One of the most prominent themes that emerged is that being part of a minority group in the UK is an unfamiliar experience for students. MasterCard Foundation scholars are from primarily Black-African communities, and participants explained that they had ‘never had to think about race before [studying in the UK]’.

Taking part in lectures where there were very few or no other Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students, accentuated the different ethnic background of the participants and made them feel that they stood out from the rest the group. 

Different ‘understanding and concept of time’.

‘Back home, it’s not a culture of expectation. You don’t know what’s happening in a month unless it’s a wedding. Like, really live to the day to day. So I lived from Monday to Tuesday, and that was fine. But coming here and being expected to state my availability in a month. It’s like, I don’t know what I’m doing on Tuesday. What do you mean what we’re doing on the 20th of March? I have no idea’. 

The participants explained that at home ‘planning’ is seen as an activity which is more focused on the day-to-day reality, rather than in the future. Punctuality and meeting deadlines were described as ‘demanding’ by the participants. 

This is something that should be considered and made clear in communications to all students. You can take a look at other potential causes of culture shock in our information and advice for students

The report reiterates the importance of intercultural awareness among university staff, to ensure that they are sensitive to the difficulties faced by BME students. Universities should also ensure that there is ease of access to counselling for international students who may need support, but who may be reluctant to seek help.

Read the full report and recommendations at 


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Christine Struwe
30 June 2020
We are currently looking into ways of helping students who are overseas and studying on line due to COVID 19 crisis and how we can better support these students and their wellbeing remotely who have returned to their home countries during lockdown.