Tertiary students continue to buckle under stress in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

Cara-Jean Petersen, student advancement manager at Feenix, explained that financial assistance alone is not enough to assist students. Supplied image.

Cara-Jean Petersen, student advancement manager at Feenix, explained that financial assistance alone is not enough to assist students. Supplied image.

Published Jul 9, 2022


Johannesburg - Reasearchers and analysts believe that we are only now starting to see the real impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on young people and students.

Crowdfunding platform, Feenix, said its data shows that stress and anxiety are at a disturbingly high level, and something needs to be done about it.

According to its second annual Insights and Learning Report, 43% of university students surveyed have pointed out that they need mental health services but can’t access them. This is an increase from 33% in 2020.

Feenix was launched in June, 2017 as a response to the #FeesMustFall movement that spread across campuses in South Africa in 2015 and 2016. This movement highlighted the extremely high cost of tertiary education, and the impact that financial stress has on a student’s success rates.

Student advancement manager at Feenix, Cara-Jean Petersen, said apart from a lack of critical resources, the impact of the pandemic, remote learning, student debt, and a variety of other socio-economic pressures are all adding to the stress and anxiety levels of students.

“Feenix is committed to the success of university students by monitoring, learning, and responding to their needs. The insights from the report assist the organisation in understanding all the challenges that might affect a young person’s ability to achieve upward mobility and financial independence.

“It also allows Feenix to share learnings with education stakeholders that could highlight opportunities for collaboration and funding,” she said.

Based on the findings, one student noted, “I had and still have a lot of breakdowns due to the academic and financial pressure.

“Due to the pandemic, being a student felt very isolating. I did not get any support whether emotionally or academically from fellow students,” said another respondent of the report. The student said financial assistance alone is not enough.

“While access to funding is paramount, so is assistance with other resources like food, accommodation, transport, and data to mitigate the additional stresses that contribute to the mental health challenges seen in tertiary institutions. More than this, mental health and other developmental resources and support are also critically needed,” she added.

Petersen said many students responded with feedback that pointed to them going through a state of depression and anxiety because they did not have the funds for their fees and accommodation.

This trend echoes a report by global management consultancy firm Kearney, which indicated that South Africa is only now starting to see the full negative impact of the pandemic and its reduced socialisation, limited schooling, and challenging mental health conditions.

“Despite the many challenges faced over the past two years, South Africans are still resilient. Students even more so,” said Petersen.

According to the report, 88% of respondents indicated that they were on track to complete their degrees within the allocated time or have completed them already.

“A big part of this is thanks to organisations like Feenix, who are finding new and innovative ways to assist students with mentoring, training, and financial resources.

“Last year, I thought it was the end of my future but the moment I received a donation from a funder via Feenix all doors started opening, and I regained hope about life. Now that I’m fully funded, I’m currently doing my internship and next year I will be able to graduate,” said one of the students in the report.

Petersen said education leads to economic participation and upward mobility for a growing youth population.

“With the right support and resources, there is hope to turn the tide on the challenges that prevent thousands of university students from thriving,” she said.

Feenix connects communities, providing a tool for students to formalise their fundraising efforts and a channel for funders to find students they wish to support.

The Saturday Star