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New to UCL survey helps professional services improve their offering to students

Student Support and Wellbeing used New to UCL survey results to track and enhance awareness amongst new students of how to access key support services.

The reception at UCL Student Support and Wellbeing offices

19 March 2018

As the stigma around mental health is being gradually eroded and more people open up about their mental wellbeing in society as a whole, so the number of students choosing to disclose mental health difficulties and seek support has also been on the rise. 

UCL recognises that maintaining good physical and mental wellbeing is essential for students to succeed, which is why a number of enhancements have been made to the services offered by UCL Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) over the past year. This central department, part of Student and Registry Services, brings together mental health, wellbeing and disability support services, including therapeutic support through a counselling service (Student Psychological Services).

Measuring impact and awareness through surveys

SSW needed to improve low awareness of their services amongst new students and made substantial changes to the services they offered students and how they communicated them, using survey results such as New to UCL to understand needs and measure impact. Key areas they focussed on were making sure that students knew where to get support and that information was clear and helpful.

In a sign that these efforts are paying off, 72% of New to UCL respondents this year said they know what support is available to them if they need it, compared to 60% last year, with a similar improvement in awareness of disability support. Likewise, 80% of respondents said the New Students site was helpful, compared to 61% last year.

SSW supported and expanded upon general trends from institutional surveys with further, more in-depth, research, informing decisions on how best to develop its service around students' needs. This included an external review of mental health support (involving student focus groups), which recommended a single point of entry to mental health, wellbeing and disability support, immediate access to support, and clear and concise information about support provided to new students on arrival.

Changes made included:

  • Introduction of a daily drop-in service, running for 2 hours every day, Monday to Friday. Students are now able to speak to a mental health, wellbeing or disability adviser on the same day, for quick access to advice, information and support. The drop-in, which previously ran only 2 days a week and only covered disability issues, has seen a 140% increase in the number of students seen between September and January this year compared to last.
  • More advisers are available in student wellbeing and mental health, and these have undergone additional training including mental health first aid, sexual and domestic violence support and other specialist areas to provide the best possible support, alongside further training in coaching and customer care.
  • The New Students website was reorganised and streamlined. Managed by SSW, this is the primary source of information for all students arriving at UCL. In preparation for September 2017, essential information and student-led articles were published to form the ‘Countdown to UCL’. This was arranged into weekly themes, to spread out the previously ‘overwhelming’ amount of information over the summer and to build a sense of excitement and community among the incoming cohort.
  • Information on SSW services for current students was redesigned. Several previously separate sites were amalgamated into a single section, making it easier for students to find the information they need. The design of the site was informed by extensive research and consultation with student representatives, and adheres to accepted best practice in information architecture.
  • The ‘Here to Support You’ guide was handed out to new students at enrolment: a comprehensive directory of SSW’s services.
  • SSW has also made itself much more visible on campus in recent months, with a series of ‘pop-up’ events to mark World Mental Health Day, International Men’s Day and other key awareness dates such as the pop-up and therapy dogs on campus for World Mental Health Day.

Denise Long, Director of Student Support and Wellbeing said:

"Students told us that they wanted quick access to support and that they wanted to see someone face to face. We’ve adapted our service to provide this. It’s all about making sure that students have an empathetic, caring person to turn to when they’re struggling and that students in need are seen quickly."

How other professional services departments can use surveys to inform change at UCL

UCL’s institutional surveys provide us with insight into the student experience at UCL, and allow us to track and act on issues affecting our students. While surveys such as the National Student Survey focus on the academic experience, our internal surveys also include questions related to students’ non-academic experience, such as IT support, student accommodation, careers and wellbeing.

Tracking trends in the results helps both academic departments and professional services to better understand students’ experiences and make targeted improvements. Open comments also provide insight into specific areas of the student experience, and are an excellent starting point for further research into how to improve your service. 

The Student Engagement team can give you insights and support: contact them at student.engagement@ucl.ac.uk to discuss results relevant to you.

The Student Engagement team can also support this further research by helping you access the UCL Student Experience Panel, which has more than 1,000 students of all levels of study and backgrounds, who are available to take part in surveys, using testing or focus groups.