The impact of the crisis on students? Data to move forward


How are higher education students experiencing the Covid-19 crisis? The online survey carried out by psychologists from UCLouvain, ULB and ULiège gathered more than 25,000 students. It is the first survey to gather such a large proportion of the student population (universities, university colleges, higher arts institutes) in Belgium, i.e. more than 10% of all students.


- 4 researchers from UCLouvain, ULB and ULiège interviewed 25,000 students in higher education, with one objective: to find out the impact of the covid-19 crisis on these young people. The study was carried out at the instigation of the Minister for Higher Education, Valérie Glatigny, and subsidised by the FWB.

- The results? More than half of the students have symptoms of anxiety and depression. They feel isolated, suffer from sleep and appetite problems. They lose motivation, sense of purpose and hope for the future

- 1 in 10 students find it difficult to meet their basic needs

- All have mobilised a range of resources and strategies to cope with the crisis

- Almost two-thirds feel that their institution has support in place for those who are struggling.

- They are largely compliant with health measures and ¾ are willing to conduct saliva tests on their campuses.

- Their priorities for the future? Recovering social contacts, the campuses. And to continue the dynamics of solidarity that they have put in place during the crisis


he students were questioned on 4 aspects: the main difficulties encountered, their mental health, compliance with health measures and future prospects. The results are worrying. The voice given to students in the survey should inform the direction and decisions for higher education.

Mental health

The high rates of reported symptoms of anxiety (50%) and depression (55%) clearly highlight the psychological difficulties faced by higher education students. Students at Baccalaureate 2 and 3 level show the highest levels of anxiety and depression.

The results also show a feeling of isolation, loneliness and lack of social contacts among students. In general, they were satisfied with their family, friends and romantic relationships, but showed marked dissatisfaction with their relationships with other students and with teachers.

Among the emotional states experienced, a high level of anger is very present. Many report sleep and appetite problems. A loss of hope for the future was also strongly present.

Compliance with health measures

For each behaviour, the majority followed the measures, even if some of them proved difficult to apply. While two-thirds of them wear a mask indoors, outside their bubble, the figures drop to 41% among friends. They work at home as much as possible (83%) and respect a distance of 1.50m outside the home (65%). They avoid gathering in public places (64%) and maintain contact via social networks (76%). These variations make it possible to identify precisely on which aspects prevention campaigns should be targeted.

The figures for vaccination are lower (57% favourable intentions) than the figures from the Belgian motivation barometer. This difference underlines the importance of setting up campaigns to motivate and explain the vaccine and of relying on saliva tests, which are much better accepted (75% favourable intentions) in the student population.

Difficulties encountered

One young person in ten said that he or she had difficulty meeting basic needs. In addition to a feeling of educational isolation (affecting 73%), other psychological difficulties related to online courses are reported: a feeling of mental and physical fatigue (for 82%), a lack of motivation (for 81%) and difficulties in managing stress (for 54%). All of this leads to a feeling of dropping out for a majority of students.

Future prospects

Young people's priorities are social contacts and returning to campus for certain activities related to their education (e.g. access to study facilities).

The reopening of sports halls and clubs is also important in a deconfinement plan. There were a number of elements that enabled students to cope with the pandemic, including contact with family and long-distance contact via social networks.

A significant proportion of students (62%) said they appreciated the support offered by their institutions.

For many, this period was an opportunity to become aware of a number of realities and to draw useful lessons, particularly in terms of the dynamics of solidarity and support.

Courses of action

  • Propose access to collective spaces allowing the resumption of social contacts between students while maintaining protective gestures and health securitý ;
  • Continue to support student aid structures in the institutions in terms of material, financial and psychological assistance. If all students are in demand of proposals for help, psychological, pedagogical and motivational support, special attention is required for bachelor students;
  • Offer new forms of support to students within the institutions (individual and group consultations, relaxation sessions, meditation, etc.);
  • Encourage the deployment of innovative materials that promote interaction between supervisory staff and students;
  • Accompany the progressive re-launch of teaching activities by strengthening motivation and explanation campaigns concerning vaccination and its consequences and by monitoring testing and tracing;
  • Continue the reminder of health measures. Through the use of motivational messages, clear visuals, techniques to facilitate access and recall of measures ("nudging").


Fabienne Glowacz, Professor of Clinical Psychology at ULiège

Olivier Klein, Professor of Social Psychology at the ULB

Olivier LuminetProfessor of Health Psychology at UCLouvain

Vincent Yzerbyt, Professor of Social Psychology at UCLouvain

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