International Student Wellbeing: findings from the International Student Barometer (ISB)

With a variety of pressures such as academic work, social life, balancing a job, home sickness, the transition to a higher education institution, and personal struggles, it’s not surprising that almost 80% of international students in the UK admit to feeling stressed or anxious at least occasionally, as indicated by the data taken from the 2022 International Student Barometer.    

Although there has always been a great financial pressure on students, this has increased now more than ever due to the current cost of living crisis in the UK, with 32% of students in 2022 reporting that they are dissatisfied with the cost of living in 2022, compared with 19% in 2021. This is due to the well-publicised rising cost of essentials such as food, clothing, transport, and energy which can all have a very negative effect on students’ mental health and can significantly increased stress levels. 

Whilst only 63% of international students studying in the UK are satisfied with the cost of accommodation in 2022, this was 5% points higher than the global ISB average.  Understandably there’s quite the range in rental costs across the UK but on average almost 50% of international students surveyed are paying £150 or more per week for their accommodation. When students were asked about the opportunities to earn money while studying, only 66% of students were satisfied with work opportunities; the global ISB average was 62%.  As costs are rising, students may find themselves having to increase the number of hours they are having to work to make ends meet, which can then negatively impact students’ academic performance as they are left with less time to focus on coursework.  

The majority of UK universities have resources aimed at students seeking mental health support including counselling services, student support teams, various online resources and often somebody available to talk 24/7.  These services are usually free of charge and can provide students with a safe space to talk and work through any issues or difficulties they may be facing at that time.  The majority of students (70%) have said that they would feel comfortable asking for mental health support from their university. However, that does mean of course that nearly a third (30%) of international students are not. Engaging with this 30% is key, and whilst there is a growing acceptance around discussing mental health issues, are we doing all we can to facilitate and enable those at-risk students?  Counselling service usage was recorded at 14%, although UK satisfaction with the service remains high, at 91% against 89% globally.  In analysing the many comments students leave in the survey it would appear that generally, when students can access the university support services, satisfaction is high, but frustrations show when access/resource is limited.   

In conclusion, many students will experience at least mild mental health issues during their time as a student, but it is important that they are aware as to how they can seek the support they need.  With more higher education institutions prioritising students’ mental health and encouraging students to take on a healthy lifestyle such as exercising, meditation, healthy eating, a balanced social life and providing a variety of supportive services to students. Ultimately, when asked, 91% of international students studying in the UK were happy or very happy with their life at university; 2% points above the global ISB benchmark.  


For a detailed analysis of the latest International Student Barometer (ISB) data and how UK institutions compare, access our latest regional webinar: 

Improving the student experience, satisfaction  and recommendation in UK institutions   The international Student Barometer collected responses from 121,000 international students; 33,000 were international students studying in the UK.

The ISB helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

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