Psychological Well-being of Students in a Diverse University Environment

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Abstract

The high diversity of the student sets the requirements for redundancy of conditions and environments in a modern university. Unified models of formation and standards do not allow us to see the individuality of students and solve the problems of social inclusion. Professional training should take into account the satisfaction and well-being of students. We are exploring the indicators of psychological well-being and constructive behavioral activity among students studying in a diversity university environment. The empirical basis of the study was Tyumen State University, where the model of individual educational trajectories is implemented. The principles of individualization define the heterogeneity of the university environment at the educational, communicative and organizational levels. The study involved 537 students in the period from 2019 to 2023. The results allowed us to confirm that the diversity environment of the university ambiguously mediates indicators of psychological well-being. Students studying in changing and diverse environment give more importance to a personal growth and personal goals than those who study in the traditional bachelor's model. However, they are less open, not inclined to maintain trusting relationships, less autonomous in forming their own opinions and decisions. In a situation of forced isolation (COVID-19), the psychological well-being of students decreased, which may be due to insufficiently accumulated interpersonal relations during full-time study.

General Information

Keywords: psychological well-being; diversity environment; individualization of learning; individual educational trajectory; students; university; agency

Journal rubric: Educational Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/pse.2023280607

Funding. The reported study was funded by Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation GZ No. 075-03-2023-150/9

Received: 04.10.2023

Accepted:

For citation: Fedina L.V., Kukhterina G.V., Saitgalieva G.G., Semenovskikh Т.V., Soloveva E.A. Psychological Well-being of Students in a Diverse University Environment. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie = Psychological Science and Education, 2023. Vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 70 – 81. DOI: 10.17759/pse.2023280607.

Full text

Theoretical Framework for the Study

The transformation of higher education is the response of modern universities to the unpredictability of change [4] and growing uncertainty [1]. The Declaration of the United Nations defines the need to “ensure a safe, free from violence and social barriers, and effective learning environment for all” [5] among the goals of sustainable development, which sets high humanistic standards. The focus is on the person, his development and well-being.

Increasing diversity (foreign students, students with disabilities, gifted students, etc.) sets requirements for new learning conditions: the accessibility and convenience of premises, educational programs, services and support. The quality criterion for assessing changes is user satisfaction, that is, the subjective and psychological well-being (hereinafter referred to as WB) of students, teachers, and university staff.

Psychological well-being is studied quite widely in modern science [3]. The integration of subjective experience and a satisfaction with life (the hedonic approach) with its value and semantic foundations (the eudaimonic approach) is combined in the theory of K.D. Riff, who considered well-being as a basic subjective construct that reflects a person’s perception and assessment of his self-realization from the point of view of the peak of potential capabilities [20].

In professional formation and personal development, well-being has a fundamental importance [19]. It is associated with autonomy, self-acceptance, goals and values in life [8; 11]; with emotional intelligence, empathy, social skills and self-esteem [19].

At the same time, the orientation of educational programs towards common training models and common standards for everyone exacerbates a number of contradictions. “There is no “typical student,” no single curriculum or approach that will work across disciplines or cultures” - writes L. Goodman [16]. Indeed, educational profile [2], social status [21], racial [17] and gender differences [14], disability and physical conditions [18] can influence students’ well-being. It was also found that first year students have a lower level of well-being [2, p. 7].

For a university today, it is becoming critically important to take into account the diversity of student youth as a required condition for supporting their well-being. Individualization as a trend cannot be understood only as facilities and services. The learning trajectory should activate subjectivity, agency, and pre-adaptation [6]. E.G. Samokhvalova, in her research, emphasizes that well-being for the modern youth is more associated with pleasure than with achievement and activity [11].

The modern university is in search of a model that can solve the problems of social inclusion by activating the personal potential of everyone. Since September 1, 2017, training has been implemented on the basis of individual educational trajectories (hereinafter referred to as IET), on the basis of Tyumen State University. The fundamental features of training in this model are: the modularity of training, the multi-subject teaching staff of nuclear disciplines, the heterogeneity of training teams, the author's nature of electives, the formation of unique competency profiles, meritocracy, free competition for talents [12, p. 303]. The stated principles are significantly closer to achieving the goals of social inclusion.

IET ensures a high heterogeneity of the university environment: at the educational level (diversity of electives and learning paths); at the level of interaction between teachers and educational teams (students spend up to 30% of their study time in constantly changing groups, where there are students of various courses and areas of training, foreign students, students with disabilities and disabilities); at the organizational level (different buildings, individual schedules).

The individualization of studying the IET model makes it possible to activate subjectivity, agency, and the constructiveness of the individual, which correlates with the personalization of training in world practice. Building a plan for your own individual, educational and professional development allows for you to comprehend learning, academic performance and (or) achieved results [15], and promotes the taking of responsibility for development based on choice [9].

The diversity environment of the university when designing IET actually replicates the key challenges of our time, placing students in the construction of an ever-changing and fluid reality. The students' independent choice of disciplines to study is associated with a subjective idea of the path, the structuring of the information, the reduction of many alternatives, individual choice and reflection. D.A. Leontiev identifies the readiness to make a choice as the ability to make it consciously, independently and take responsibility for the risk [7, p. 110].

The purpose of this study was to study the indicators of WB and the constructiveness of behavioral activity among students in a diversity university environment, depending on the ability to build IET in the learning process.

Empirical Research

Methods. The study included determining the level of WB, its components and strategies of coping behavior, including the constructiveness index. Diagnostic methods were used: the “Psychological Well-Being Scale” by K. Riff, adapted by T.D. Shevelenkova and V.V. Fesenko and “Strategies for Coping with Stressful Situations” (SACS) by S. Hobfoll, adapted by N.E. Vodopyanova, E.S. Starchenkova [13]. Mathematical processing was performed using SPSS Statistics 17.0. A comparative analysis of the diagnostic data was carried out using Student's t-test and the Mann-Whitney U-test, correlation analysis - by calculating Pearson’s r-coefficient.

The empirical basis of the study was the results of testing 1-4th year students of Tyumen State University, aged from 18 to 22 years (M=20.1; SD=0.92), studying in the period from 2019 to 2023. A total of 537 people took part, of who 87% are girls and 13% are boys. Based on the diagnostic results, 2 samples were formed: the first - 357 people studying IET in a diversity university environment, the second - 180 students who at the same time were receiving education in academic bachelor's degrees. The study was based on a cross-sectional method; students from both samples underwent a diagnostic examination during their studies in the psychological discipline once per academic year.

Results and Discussion

The conducted research includes the following stages of analysis of the obtained data: 1) the comparison of the WB indicators of students studying the IET model and students studying in traditional undergraduate programs; 2) the description of the dynamics of student WB indicators in two established samples during the period associated with studying during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the post-pandemic period; 3) the study of the dominant strategies of coping behavior in relation to WB of students from both samples.

1)       A comparison of the average WB values in two samples of students already studying IET and the traditional academic bachelor’s program indicates the presence of a good internal resource in all young people, since all values are recorded at the average level and above the average (fig. 1).

 


Fig. 1. Average scores of indicators of the psychological well-being of students enrolled in traditional bachelor's and IET programs 

It was found that students studying IET have statistically higher results in terms of personal growth (t = 2.7; p < 0.01) and goals in life (t = 2.6; p < 0.01). It means they are more open to new experiences, have a sense of direction and clearer life goals than students studying in traditional programs.

They also have statistically insignificantly higher results in self-acceptance (64.6) and control of the environment and activities (58.4). They are less inclined to maintain trusting relationships, less autonomous in forming their own opinions and making decisions than bachelors do.

In other words, the individualization of education can stimulate the demonstration of characteristics that determine subjectivity and agency (determination, leadership qualities, self-development, etc.). At the same time, existence in a constantly changing diversity environment with a lack of stable social connections can stimulate the development of a tendency to be guided by stereotypes or short-lived trends in social consciousness.

2) The dynamics of students’ well-being indicators were analyzed over 4 academic periods (from 2019 to 2022). Particular attention is drawn to the analysis of the dynamics of WB trends associated with distance learning in COVID-19 and the recovery from it (fig. 2).

It was found that the overall WB rate in the pre-pandemic 2019-2020 academic year was higher for students studying IET (372.5) than for traditional undergraduate students (363). In the first year of distance learning (2020-2021 academic year), the overall well-being for all students was the lowest, regardless of the learning model. Subsequently, students studying in the traditional model of bachelor's degrees had a higher overall well-being score (369.58), which indicates their greater adaptive resource to the conditions of social isolation. The statistical significance of the differences in the severity of well-being was not confirmed in these three periods among students in the two samples.


Fig. 2. Dynamics of the overall psychological well-being indicator in groups of students studying in traditional bachelor’s and IET programs (average scores)

 

At the same time, we found that before (12%) and after (17%) leaving distanced learning, the number of respondents with a low level of the overall WB indicator of students with IET turned out to be almost two times less compared to the period of the COVID-19 pandemic (28 -29% in 2020-2022). It is obvious that forced social isolation had a fairly strong frustrating effect on them.

The recorded patterns confirmed the previous studies, which established that the innovative competence of the subject (openness to new experience and innovation) predicts a decrease in well-being [10].

3) The variability in the structure of WB indicators of students studying the IET model over 4 academic years was also analyzed (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Dynamics of the indicators of the psychological well-being of students studying with IET (average scores)

The highest values were recorded for the “personal growth” and “goals in life” indicators. Such WB indicators as “autonomy”, “control of the environment” and “personal growth” turned out to be less susceptible to changes. A sufficiently high level of development, as well as the stability and non-susceptibility to the influence of frustrating factors, allows us to consider these indicators as the main resource of WB.

The indicators of positive relationships with others, goals in life, and self-acceptance turned out to be less stable. During the pandemic years (from 2020 to 2022), there was a “failure” in students’ reliance on stable, trusting relationships with others, an increased tendency to limit contacts, a decrease in a sense of purpose, and a disorientation in life. Self-acceptance decreased slightly in the first year and then increased steadily.

4) Strategies for overcoming stress (coping), including educational and professional stress, are one of the tools for maintaining a person’s WB. Their constructiveness is determined by the activity of the behavior model and increases a person’s resistance to stress.

Correlation analysis made it possible to establish a significant number of statistically significant high-level connections between WB indicators and coping strategies among students in both samples: 19 direct connections (in total) between various WB indicators with the constructive “assertive actions” and “seeking social support” copings; and 6 connections (in each group) with the non-constructive “avoidance” coping. For students studying IET, an additional statistically significant direct connection with the constructive “entering into social contact” coping was identified. Perhaps, the constant presence in a diversity environment makes it possible to train students’ communication skills, reducing the potential for conflict and positively influencing the psychological state of the student.

A high level of the general constructiveness index was identified in 57 respondents (34 IET students and 29 bachelors), a low level – in 71 respondents (23 IET students and 48 bachelors). The results of their WB indicators are presented in Figure 4.



Fig. 4. Average scores of the WB indicators of students with high and low indexes of constructiveness of overcoming behavior 

In the group with a low constructiveness index, all WB indicators are slightly higher among students studying in the traditional bachelor's program; statistically significant differences were recorded in the indicator of positive relationships with others (U=400, p<0.05). They rely on the potential of stable, comfortable connections with others as a resource, even if they themselves are unsuccessful in solving difficult life situations.

A high index of constructiveness of coping behavior provides students studying IET with higher indicators of WB, in addition to autonomy. The indicators of personal growth (U=289, p<0.05) and control of the environment (U=135, p<0.01) are statistically significant. The need to coexist in a constantly changing diverse social environment stimulates the development of students' social competence.

Conclusions

The diversity environment of the university ambiguously mediates the WB indicators of students. By creating conditions of redundancy, the university is making significant progress in solving the problem of equal rights and opportunities for inclusion in the educational process of students with different status, health capabilities, nationality, and age. At the same time, when constructing an IET model, it is important to rely on taking into account the needs of students.

Autonomy, control of the environment and personal growth can be considered as the main resource of WB among IET students. These indicators are less susceptible towards the influence of frustrating factors, including forced isolation during the pandemic period. Orientation towards self-development and leadership is ensured by a high index of the constructiveness of overcoming behavior (assertive actions, entering into social contact and seeking social support, disinclination towards avoidance coping), which serves as the basis of their WB.

Indicators of positive relationships with others, goals in life, and self-acceptance turned out to be less stable among IET students. A diversity environment allows for students to pay more attention to their desires and goals. At the same time, such attention “to oneself” can provoke egocentrism or a dissatisfaction with oneself, disunity, and disorientation. Forced social isolation in the COVID-19 situation has revealed deficits in positive relationships with significant others (teachers, fellow students). In studying, it is important to allocate a significant place to communication and its resources through organizational (electives, events, activities at the university) and pedagogical (use of face-to-face interactive forms and teaching methods) conditions.

A diversity environment is not a universal answer to solving the problems of social inclusion. Self-organization and regulation skills allow for students to understand better what they want. IET allows you to “reformat” the content of education, indirectly influencing the level of WB. This is a mechanism that calibrates a student’s capabilities from average to unique, when everyone can have their own set of “soft skills” and be successful in learning.

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Information About the Authors

Lyudmila V. Fedina, PhD in Education, Associate Professor, Chair of childhood`s psychology and pedagogy, Institute of Psychology and Pedagogy, Tyumen State University, Tyumen, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2822-0692, e-mail: l.v.fedina@utmn.ru

Galina V. Kukhterina, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Chair of Psychology and Pedagogy of Childhood, Institute of Psychology and Pedagogy, Tyumen State University, Tyumen, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3919-5469, e-mail: g.v.kukhterina@utmn.ru

Guzel G. Saitgalieva, PhD in Sociology, Docent, Director, Resource Educational-Methodical Center for Training People with Disabilities, Moscow State University of Psychology & Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0216-4167, e-mail: ggg2910@mail.ru

Тatiana V. Semenovskikh, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Chair of Psychology and Pedagogy of Childhood, Institute of Psychology and Pedagogy, Tyumen State University, Tyumen, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6015-7497, e-mail: t.v.semenovskikh@utmn.ru

Elena A. Soloveva, PhD in Education, Associate Professor, Chair of Psychology and Pedagogy of Childhood, Institute of Psychology and Pedagogy, Tyumen State University, Tyumen, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1994-4162, e-mail: e.a.soloveva@utmn.ru

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