‘Loneliness is not about how many people I’m surrounded by, but how many people truly understand me.’

3 Mins read

As the final semester starts, how do the students in London feel? Has the government’s campaign to combat student loneliness borne fruit?

“When I am in university, I’m always surrounded by people, but I am lonely because I don’t know any of these people personally. There’s no one I can count on, no one I can rely on.”

Aayushi Bose, a Film Master’s student at the University of the Arts London, is far from alone in feeling loneliness. This is her first experience far from home in a big city like London. Until she moved to London, the overseas student lived with her family back in India.

This feeling echoes the definition given by the Mental Health Foundation as “the negative feeling we have when there is a mismatch between the relationships we want and the ones we have, both in terms of quality and quantity.”

This feeling extends beyond the 19,000 international and national students at UAL. Long considered taboo, loneliness has affected almost every UK student at least once in the past year, according to the latest YouGov study commissioned by the government.

It is one of the government’s priorities. The UK created a Ministry of Loneliness in 2018. The Minister of Higher Education, Robert Halfon said in a press release: “Since launching the world’s first government strategy on loneliness, the Government and its partners have invested over £80 million in tackling loneliness.”

Students’ daily life is tarnished by third-party difficulties contributing to their loneliness. “As an MA student, I don’t have the time to join any Arts SU society, even though I have signed up for about 9 to 10 societies”, said Aayushi.

Busy schedules affect some, and language barriers affect others, like Noïra Ndakwala-Boketi, a Journalism Master’s student at UAL: “Speaking a language is not only knowing how to communicate in that language, but it’s also a whole culture that goes with it,” she says.

“Coming to London and being moderately comfortable with English, creates a barrier. It stresses me out more than anything else to attend events. In the end, out of fear of having this pressure, I do the opposite where I lose interest in everything.”

According to The Guardian, “£3.6m has been invested in Student Space, a mental health and wellbeing online platform offering online mental health support to all students in England and Wales until 2026.”

Stuart Andrew, Minister for Loneliness, is working hand-in-hand with different charities such as Sporting Wellness and Student Minds. A 10-point plan was launched with advice including: “Join a club or society at university to connect with others who have similar interests.”

It is a plan that seems obvious to Noïra: “We can all take two minutes and ask ourselves how I make friends. We can find these tips ourselves, whereas money, you can’t invent it. Student precariousness is real.”

“It really depends on the individual student and what they feel most comfortable with … You need to find what’s best for you.”


Economic difficulties also impact loneliness, as some students can’t afford to take part in paid extra-curricular activities, or because their student work takes up all their free time.

At UAL and Arts SU, other solutions are proposed to help students struggling with loneliness. Shriya Ruparelia, Student Union Advisor says: “Buddy Up was initially called the companion scheme and it was designed to support students in kind of navigating loneliness and those kinds of periods where in-person socialising wasn’t permitted.

“It was designed to kind of help students stay connected during that time, but it was quite popular so that’s why we decided to continue it after all the lockdown restrictions had lifted.”

At the end of this first semester, 232 students have filled out the form to connect virtually with a new friend. “It’s a real mix between postgrad and undergrad.”

In addition to the Buddy Up platform, students can also join clubs and societies. The Arts student union counts no less than 62 societies and 29 sports clubs.

For Shriya, all these different initiatives help students find what suits them best to end their loneliness: “It really depends on the individual student and what they feel most comfortable with. Some students might prefer to meet with just one person and have that interaction either online or in person however they feel comfortable, and some students will thrive off the kind of group dynamics of a society and being around lots of people so it’s personal. You need to find what’s best for you.”

Featured image by Ken Whytock via Flickr CC

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