Student Wellbeing and Course Experience Survey 2013

Key Findings and Outcomes of the Survey

Thank you to all the students who participated in the 2013 Melbourne School of Engineering Student Wellbeing Survey in April of this year. The findings of the survey provide invaluable information for the School of Engineering and the University of Melbourne as we work to support student wellbeing.

I would also like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided for administration of the survey by Engineering Student Centre. This project received financial support from the University’s Learning and Teaching Initiatives Fund and from the Melbourne School of Engineering. Data were statistically analysed by Dr Sue Finch and Ms Rachel Sore, from the Statistical Consulting Centre, The University of Melbourne. I am also grateful to Associate Professor Wendy Larcombe from the Melbourne School of Law for her involvement.

Professor Sandra Kentish, 2013 Developing Student Wellbeing Project
11 October 2013

Key Findings

The 2013 online Melbourne School of Engineering Student Wellbeing survey collected anonymous data on respondents’ general levels of wellbeing, course experience, use of student services and perceptions of common causes of student stress. It also enabled participants to suggest how student wellbeing could be supported or improved. The survey included two widely used wellbeing measures — the DASS-21 (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scales) and Ryff’s Psychological Wellbeing Scales (PWBS).

  • A total of 713 Engineering students participated in the 2013 survey in weeks 6 to 9 of first semester.
  • 14 per cent of respondents were in our Bachelor programs and 86 per cent were in the Masters.
  • 60 per cent of respondents were in the normal-mild range on all three DASS scales — depression, anxiety or stress — meaning that they were experiencing low levels of psychological distress
  • 23 per cent of respondents recorded a score in the severe or extremely severe range on one or more of the DASS scales, indicating that they were experiencing high levels of psychological distress
  • The only significant associations between demographic factors and levels of psychological distress were:
    • Students caring for family member/s five or more hours per week were significantly more likely to report elevated levels of anxiety and if caring for ten or more hours were more likely to report elevated levels of both stress and anxiety. It is not clear whether it is caring for children or for adults that increases the risk of psychological distress.
    • International students were more likely to report elevated levels of anxiety.
  • Other factors significantly associated with elevated levels of depressive symptoms were high levels of assessment stress, worry about comparisons, financial stress and worry about job prospects, as well as low levels of course satisfaction
  • Other factors significantly associated with elevated levels of anxiety were a low perceived competence and a low level of comprehending the course content. A lack of career direction was also a factor here. A worry about comparisons also factored again.
  • Other factors significantly associated with elevated levels of stress were high levels of financial stress, high levels of assessment stress, a focus on high grades and a low level of coping with the workload.
  • These findings suggest that Engineering student psychological distress could be reduced by a range of measures and professional services targeted specifically to address these issues.
  • Respondents’ suggestions for improving student wellbeing in the Engineering program were wide-ranging. Some of the key themes included reducing the assignment workload and spacing assignment submission dates more appropriately, so that major assignments were not all due at the same time. Some students cited difficulty when team work is required, particularly if they are asked to form teams themselves, as they did not know enough fellow students to make this easy. Other students noted that it can be difficult to join engineering student clubs, as these appeared to focus on particular student groups. Many international students indicated that they found it very difficult when they first started the course to cope with the new environment while also studying in a second language and trying to make new friends.
  • Existing wellbeing and academic support services and resources were rated as moderately to very useful by most students who had consulted them. Comments indicated that students would prefer longer consultation times with student services if possible; and that mindfulness or meditation sessions would be useful.
  • Many of the students experiencing high levels of psychological distress had not accessed the services and resources available through the Melbourne School of Engineering and the university, and more promotion of these services is indicated.

Faculty/Program Response to the 2013 Student Wellbeing Survey Findings

The findings of the 2013 Melbourne School of Engineering Student Wellbeing surveys provide the School with important information about student mental health issues that will help to inform and direct steps being taken to create a positive and healthy learning environment within the School. These steps will be developed in coming months as we study the results of this survey in depth. The Melbourne School of Engineering looks forward to continued collaboration with students, colleagues in Counselling and Psychological Services at the University of Melbourne and in other faculties and schools to help to enhance student wellbeing, resilience and enjoyment of life in the Engineering program and beyond.