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COVID-19 International Student Well-being Study. First results from Belgium (Dutch publication)

Van de Velde, Sarah; Buffel, Veerle; Wouters; Van Hal; Bracke; Colman

The Belgian data of the C19 ISWS show that students experience a lot of stress as a result of the COVID-19 measures. A large part of the students indicates that the workload increased considerably during the COVID-19 epidemic, that the study expectations became more unclear and that this caused them stress. Less than 20% indicate that they are not worried about finishing this academic year successfully. Moreover, a substantial group indicates that the quality of education declined during the COVID-19 epidemic, and that the university or college did not inform them sufficiently about the measures implemented. Approximately one third did not feel that they could turn to someone at the university or college to address these concerns. Nevertheless, the majority of students are satisfied with the way in which the university or college of applied its measures in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

We also find that there is a strong increase in the number of students reporting financial problems during the COVID-19 epidemic. The most pronounced increase in financial problems can be found among students with a migration background, students with lower-educated parents, students who pay for their own studies, and students with limited availability of social and economic capital. 

Students experience strong feelings of loneliness during the COVID-19 epidemic. This is more pronounced among female students, younger students and students with limited social and economic capital. Students generally have less social contacts with family and friends during the COVID-19 epidemic. Mainly the social contact with friends has decreased. Students mainly contact each other online (video conversations, chatting). A minority of students have face-to-face contact (a chat on the street, a picnic in the park). 
Students report many depressive complaints. This is even more pronounced among female students and students with lower-educated parents. Finally, Bachelor students and students from the humanities, social sciences, literature and philosophy appear to have a harder time. 

At the same time, we see positive developments in the domain of healthy lifestyles. There is a strong decrease in alcohol consumption and in the frequency of binge drinking during the COVID-19 epidemic. Also the use of cannabis and smoking decreased during the COVID-19 epidemic. Students also changed their sports behavior, but fell into extremes: both the proportion of students who almost never, and the proportion who almost daily exercizes, grew. 

The infection rate with COVID-19 within the student sample is similar to that observed in the general population; 2.5% of the student sample became infected with COVID-19 (confirmed by a lab test or by a health care provider), and 9% suspected they had COVID-19 without confirmation from a health care provider. Within the group of students who did not get infected, one in four students considered it probable to very probable that they would become infected with COVID-19. 

More than half of the students adhere well or very well to government measures. However, it is striking that one in ten students do not give themselves a positive score here. Slightly more than 6% even say they do not comply with the measures at all.

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