Abstract: Challenges Faced By University Students during the COVID-19: An International Study in Five Countries (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Challenges Faced By University Students during the COVID-19: An International Study in Five Countries

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, PhD, Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Miriam Schiff, PhD, Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
Aliriza Arënliu, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Prishtina, Kosovo
Larysa Zasiekina, PhD, Professor, Lesya Ukrainka Volyn National University, Ukraine
Anthony Kagialis, PhD, Researcher, University of Cyprus
Nuno Ferreira, PhD, Professor, University of Cyprus
Yuriy Nesterko, PhD, Professor, University of Leiptzig
Heide Glaesmer, PhD, Professor, University of Leiptzig
Manuel Fernández-Alcántara, PhD, Professor, Department of Health Psychology, University of Alicante, Spain
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor Emritus, Hebrew university of Jerusalem, Jerualem, Israel
Background and Purpose: Although students’ populations are often regarded as resilient and resourceful, there is a growing international concern regarding mental health and wellbeing of students in higher education, especially among undergraduate students. The study focused on the specific challenges of university students in the face of COVID-19 pandemic and examined similarities and differences in COVID-19- related concerns and difficulties in functioning in samples of undergraduate students in five countries.

Research Questions: (1) What are the levels of COVID-19-related concerns and functional difficulties among university students? (2) What are the similarities and differences among students in five different countries in both general COVID-19-related concerns and COVID-19-related functional difficulties and (3) What specific risk and protective factors can predict the level of perceived coping with the challenges in the context of COVID-19 in the total sample of students while controlling for the potential effects of different countries?

Methods: A sample of 4,306 undergraduate university students (43.8% males and 56.2% females) from Israel, Kosovo, Ukraine, Cyprus and Germany participated in an online survey during the first wave of the pandemic. The levels of exposure to COVID-19, perceived health status, specific COVID-related concerns and functional difficulties, social support, and the perceived level of coping were assessed. Online cross-sectional surveys were conducted at about the same time in each of the participating countries. E-mails with introduction prepared by the authors and a link to the questionnaire were sent by the universities’ deans of students or other university official authorities. Data collection took place during the first wave of the pandemic: March 23 to April 26, 2020.

Results: Similar patterns of COVID-19 related concerns and functional difficulties were identified in the five countries; the uncertainty regarding the termination of the health crisis and worry for the health of family members were the most common concerns. Challenges in online learning and financial difficulties were rated as the most central difficulties. Based on the combined sample, a hierarchical regression showed that both COVID-19-related concerns and COVID-19-related difficulties predicted lower levels of perceived coping. Greater social support was associated with better perceived coping.

Conclusions and Implications: These similar combinations of concerns reflect the common perceptions of the unprecedented pandemic and the current universal experience of a sharp sense of uncertainty embedded in this novel international threat that has derailed normal life around the world. Policy makers should be informed by the accumulating research showing the substantive relationships between academic difficulties and perceived COVID-19-related distress and coping. International efforts should target strategic planning and coordination a comprehensive crisis prevention and psychological aid for students during major disasters. These efforts should include epidemiological monitoring, screening, referral and targeted intervention as part of comprehensive prevention and reduction of mental health distress. Public health interventions should focus on increasing the sense of personal control and dissemination of practical approaches towards the reduction of risk factors.