6.4 Well-being

Student well-being

Monitoring and promoting student well-being is a joint responsibility of our entire academic community. This posed a major challenge in 2021. It was a difficult year for both staff and student well-being. In this regard, a variety of societal developments (e.g., the ongoing pandemic, the performance society, the student loan system, and housing issues) had a negative effect on the mental state of our students. Efforts were made to meet the needs of students as much as possible, even though they were not able to come to campus for much of the year. In 2021, in addition to having interventions in place for situations in which students are experiencing a loss of well-being, a cultural shift was made toward prevention and early diagnosis, with the objective of preventing dropouts and delays, while increasing the resilience of students. Within this framework, we continue to activate individual students to engage in self-management, and we aim to inspire students to keep an eye on each other’s well-being and promote social cohesion.

According to the results of previous Student Well-being Monitors, students need support primarily in the areas of motivation, contact with fellow students, contact with lecturers, and the daily schedule. In addition, working from within the coronavirus working group for Community, students kept their finger on the pulse of well-being among their constituents. In addition to increasing the deployment of Student Counselors and Student Psychologists, a range of activities has been organized again this year in response to these signals. For example, around Christmas, there was a program of activities for staff and students (with the Tilburg University Chaplaincy Maranatha serving as a community center), TiU Walks (see below), digital drops, and a musical Christmas bingo. Groups were started for students for grief and loss counseling, in addition to training opportunities in mindfulness, silent meditation, women’s resilience, yoga, Pilates, and fitness. Lecturers also made additional investments in staying in touch with students (e.g., by organizing small-scale meetings where possible or taking groups for a walk outside).

TiU Walks. Through the TiU Walks initiative, students could sign up to meet up with others for walks or other social activities. The organization behind TiU Walks ensured that students received each other’s contact information, so they could agree on a place and time. This allowed them to take a break and meet new people at the same time. They were obviously instructed to follow the COVID-19 restrictions at all times.

In 2021, efforts were made to optimize the chain optimization, and awareness campaigns were launched to direct students to the proper assistance. Direction concerning well-being is centrally located within various groups of positions in the Student Development department in Team Wellness. Implementation requires a collaborative didactic and pedagogical effort across the entire University. In addition, a Well-being Officer and a Student Well-being Working Group were launched this year to improve student well-being and organize community strengthening activities together, where possible in close cooperation with student associations. The Well-being Officer is responsible for the mutual coordination of all activities (integrated approach). A psychological assistant was also recruited. Starting in the first part of 2022, this assistant will help with triage toward short-term help, as well as with referral (or further referral) to different or additional help.

Although ownership and control of well-being rest with the individual student, the University creates the proper conditions and seeks cooperation with the external care system. The Student Well-being Working Group, in which both staff and students are represented, fulfils an initiating and connecting role in this process of change. This is because the focus of our shared well-being agenda is increasingly shifting toward the belief that well-being is being strained for most of us (and especially for students) during certain periods and that we must anticipate this across the breadth of the population before even greater problems arise. In short, the promotion of well-being is strategically crucial to academic success, orientation to the job market, and career success.

Read the story of Janne (photograph on the right)

To achieve these goals, a Well-being Communication Plan was written and partially implemented in 2021, using awareness campaigns to direct students to the proper assistance. This new approach is aimed at helping students find their own way toward an appropriate range of help (including self-help). For example, starting in Q1 2022, the Gezonde Boel (Healthy Lot) prevention portal will be introduced to the entire student population, and the range of training opportunities for student ambassadors and administrators will be expanded (e.g., Active Bystander training). Furthermore, several Peer-to-Peer activities (including for grief/loss and ADHD/ADD) have been developed and will be expanded further in the coming years.

In addition, by 2021, some improvements have been made in services to international students with regard to insurance and better access to family physician care services. For example, close cooperation has been established with seven family physician practices in Tilburg, which have created additional space for international students to register, and information campaigns have been launched to inform them better about insurance (including better coverage against medical expenses through collective agreements and improved information facilities).

In addition, the number of requests for examination facilities increased significantly in 2021. As of December 1, 2021, 1,416 students had received one or more examination provisions (for a total of 2,207 provisions). This refers to adjustments in the taking of examinations for students in need of support (e.g., additional time to take examinations, adapted furniture, or auditory facilities). Student counselors have also been actively involved in providing workstations, and online examinations.

Employee well-being

Employee well-being was also strained in 2021. Within Tilburg University, we consider employee well-being important, and we aim to ensure a positive working climate in which our employees can perform their work in a healthy and safe manner. Monitoring and promoting employee well-being is a joint responsibility of employees, supervisors, and the organization as a whole. The employee surveys that were conducted in 2020 identified workload, well-being, work-life balance, and connection as major concerns. These outcomes will be followed up on in 2021. 

The pandemic placed a strain on the well-being of all employees. The effects of COVID-19 on the social lives, financial situations, and study delays of students led to an increasing demand for help. This increased the strain on student counselors and student psychologists, as well as on social workers, and the University Chaplain. For staff with teaching duties, the ability to deliver classes and stay connected to students suddenly became a major challenge. Researchers and PhD students could no longer continue with their research in a normal setting—some were even forced to discontinue it—and this can have a major effect on well-being. All employees within the supporting service departments had to adjust their work and take on additional activities during the pandemic, and it became more difficult for them to maintain connections with colleagues. Some of these employees were also suddenly assigned the task of managing parts of the crisis. In addition, factors of even greater importance were at play for certain groups of employees (e.g., international colleagues or colleagues with care responsibilities outside of work). For this reason, we have been working across the entire organization to protect the well-being of all employees as much as possible. A regular employee monitor will be conducted in 2022.

Inspire (Y)ourself Week. In partnership with Human Resources, we can look back on a successful Inspire (Y)ourself Week. Despite restrictions, we managed to get many employees excited about participating. Fortunately, the week took place during a time when exercising was allowed to some extent. Despite the stricter measures imposed by the government just before the week started, we were ultimately able to record more than 200 participants in the week’s programming. The programming entailed a highly diverse array of activities, ranging from morning yoga to mindfulness and spinning classes.

A survey of lecturers was conducted in January 2021. Although lecturers apparently appreciated the support that was set up through the Teacher Desk, the co-hosting of online classes, and the Teacher Academy, not all of them actually used these forms of support (due to unfamiliarity or lack of time). The results revealed that lecturers were experiencing an overwhelming information overload. Finding the right information therefore took a great deal of effort. In addition, there was a need for support in the organization of online examinations and across the board for more personalized assistance options (customization). The findings of this study were incorporated into the recommendations issued in the spring by a working group on education in 2021/2022 and beyond. Based on these findings, a wide range of actions were initiated, including agreements concerning better lines of communication and the organization of support closer to the lecturer.

In addition, many tools have recently been developed to open well-being to discussion and to promote well-being for all employees: Golden Rules, a buddy system, check-ins from the Connected Leading toolbox, a company counselor, a PhD psychologist, training in mindfulness and work-life balance, vitality programs, and advice on workplace design. To foster dialogue in teams, between employees and supervisors, and between employees, a clear brochure was produced showing what is on offer, broken down into ways to identify (or recognize) workload, health, and well-being, to open them to discussion, and to address them. More comprehensive information can then be found on the dedicated intranet page where the tools and support available to our organization are classified and explained in detail.