Summary of a study visit in Amsterdam | Gdańsk University of Technology

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Date added: 2023-02-23

Summary of a study visit in Amsterdam

study visit in Amsterdam
How does the Dutch government support universities in promoting the emotional health of students? What wellbeing initiatives are undertaken by students themselves? These and many other questions were asked by the International Relations Office during the study visit in Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam on 7-9 February.

In mid-September 2022, the International Relations Office at Gdańsk University of Technology launched a project named „Hey, are you ok?”. The main objective of the project is to support the emotional health of students and staff. The tasks within the project include study visits at European universities that offer wellbeing programs.

Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (VU), the first study visit destination, is one of top technical universities in the Netherlands, placed high in international rankings (151-200 in Shanghai Ranking). The university has 30 thousand students, 10% of which are international students.

During the February study visit, the International Relations Office – Marta Wojcieszenko, the Project Manager of “Hey, are you OK?” and Justyna Sudakowska, Event Organization Specialist, met with Frieda Schaufeli, Policy Advisor Student Wellbeing and Kim Daamen, International Student Advisor.  

Government support

In 2021, the Dutch government made a strategic decision and introduced a program helping universities to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget within the program, which amounted to 700 million euro, was allocated to development of key scientific disciplines, grants for researchers and, more importantly, to activities aimed at improving the emotional wellbeing of students.

Thanks to i.a. government funds, it was possible to create a special position at VU for a person whose main task is to take care of general wellbeing of students and to establish an interdisciplinary team to support their activities.

- What our colleagues from VU underlined is the fact that owing to the government support, they are able to undertake more comprehensive and long-term activities in the field of student wellbeing. Unlike projects financed from external sources, e.g. from European Union funds, the approach to initiatives implemented from the government and university budget is more flexible. There is less focus on achieving specific numerical results of implemented activities, and more on quality – says Marta Wojcieszenko.

Strategy first

VU staff started working for the benefit of student emotional wellbeing by preparing a strategy. As a result, they developed „VU Amsterdam Vision on Student Wellbeing”, a document defining student wellbeing and key areas of work: raising awareness, preventive measures, professionalization of activities and building a sense of membership, and determining conditions to be met for these activities to be effective.

Justyna Sudakowska: - Shared responsibility means that the academic society is jointly accountable for student wellbeing. This equally regards the staff and students themselves, as well as external entities, such as psychological health centers, the University cooperates with. Such an inclusive approach allows all the interested parties to join the activities, and the safe and respectful environment indicates freedom of discussion on issues related to the psychological health, without the fear of being judged. 

Good practices

Wellbeing at VU is a widely interpreted issue. It is the psychological help, but also support in the study process itself (e.g. a very popular Broader Mind Course), encouragement to take care of one’s physical health (the students can use Fitsurance Physical Health Check) and organization of events (such as „The Health and Wellbeing Week”, organized each year in November).

- The University internet page contains information on how to cope with the autumn and winter blues that affects 10% of Dutch people – adds Marta Wojcieszenko.

In order to provide a comprehensive emotional wellbeing support, there are 15 employees from different units engaged: not only directly responsible for student issues, but also from international relations office, sports center or safety center. The team meets regularly, once a month (the meetings in smaller subgroups are held more often) and works together on planning and implementation of tasks.  

Are all the wellbeing initiatives popular among the students? Not always, as the colleagues from VU remarked. Similarly to many other universities, the employees VU also face challenges related to employee engagement in activities for the benefit of emotional health promotion.

- Initially enthusiastic students, very often enroll in the workshops willingly and numerously, and ultimately do not attend the classes without prior notification. Interestingly, This problem is smaller when it comes to the international students, who explicitly search for various forms of contact – says Marta Wojcieszenko.

Student initiatives

In autumn 2021, on the initiative of the students, Student Wellbeing Point was opened – a comfortably arranged space in the main building of the University. Students who are struggling with any difficulties, can meet their peers and talk about their worries in an informal atmosphere, anonymously, without making an appointment in advance. What is important, is that the students on duty at the Student Wellbeing Point are properly trained in providing basic psychological support and intercultural competences. If necessary, they also refer their colleagues to appropriate units where more professional help can be provided.

Justyna Sudakowska: - What made Student Wellbeing Point so popular and  trustworthy among the students, is that it was an initiative for students by students.

The study visit ended in… Mindfulnest, i.e. a relaxation cabin located in the main library of the university, willingly used by both students and employees. It is a place where you can relax and calm down in silence or with relaxing music.

Next study visit in the „Hey, are you ok?” project will take place on 20-21 February. This time, the International Relations Office and the HR Center will visit Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, a partner university in the ENHANCE Alliance.