Representatives of the Inter-University Network examining undergrads’ mental health share their experiences
Three of the students - Sean Pang, Tanay Bharadwaja and Rebecca Tay - share how it was like coming together to manage IUN's pioneering project.
Providing grace days for assignment deadlines, and providing greater flexibility in workload and curriculum were among the recommendations put forth by the Inter-University Network (IUN) in late June.
These came after a study, which sought to understand mental health stressors among Singapore undergraduates, was presented at the IUN UCare Mental Health Forum. Titled UCare, the project was the pioneering initiative from IUN and was helmed by a number of youths.
Among them were National University of Singapore (NUS) student Sean Pang, 23, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student Tanay Bharadwaja, 23 and Yale-NUS College student Rebecca Tay, 22.
According to Tanay, the IUN stemmed from a desire between the student unions of some of the universities in Singapore to go above and beyond in helping the students.
“We were doing a lot in our respective schools, we were trying to push for different initiatives, different support schemes for students but we felt that we were ready to make a bigger and better change that impacted Singapore as a whole,” he said.
With the launch, the student unions get to collaborate with the National Youth Council (NYC), which provides the necessary resources and support to further their initiatives such as UCare.
Conducting the survey
As part of UCare, the team conducted the study with 470 university undergraduates from NUS, NTU, Singapore Management University (SMU), the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) as well the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).
While the actual survey only spanned a few weeks from March to April, the planning that went into it stretched back to the previous December when the brainstorming process began.
“During this period, we had the IUN basically come together to work on the objectives as well as the various survey questions,” said Rebecca.
After the completion of the survey, the team then received help from NYC with regard to the analysis of the results.
Using the analysis, they were able to flesh out key insights and provide recommendations to university management and other stakeholders.
Facing some roadblocks
Even with NYC’s assistance, getting the report out was far from a walk in the park.
With the project being a collaborative effort across multiple universities, it was a challenge to coordinate schedules across student governments in different academic years from various faculties. Some of the members were even on their internships while others were busy with work related commitments.
“Sometimes, it has to be over Zoom. Other times, it’s at random locations that are able to accommodate us, such as SMU’s student association room, where we just gather and brainstorm,” said Sean.
To compound matters, the separate unions meant that each university had its own core values and views on mental health.
As such, proposing policies which would adequately address the collective needs of all the universities while being feasible was an arduous process.
“We didn’t want to put a blanket on all the universities and say they’re all like this, so coming up with recommendations that could work for most of the universities and weren’t conflicting with anything each university was doing was another challenge for us,” explained Tanay.
In addition, publicising the survey and getting enough respondents proved to be cumbersome as well.
As the IUN was only recently established, it was difficult to get their name out to students and to get the required number of respondents for the analysis.
Sean said they had to rely on their own publicity channels, citing Telegram and Instagram as platforms which were useful in getting the word out about the survey.
Overcoming the obstacles
Despite these trials and tribulations, the team was able to complete and round off their report, amassing a number of positive reactions from the stakeholders after the findings were announced.
“The university management was quite impressed by our recommendations and how thought out it was,” said Tanay.
The management also commended their use of data in order to bolster their ideas as opposed to suggesting substandard ideas without justification.
Rebecca was also able to weigh in on the perspective of youths, bringing up how she came across quite a few favourable responses to the report while browsing through the Internet.
Judging from the responses, many students were encouraged that there was finally a platform that put their experiences with burnout and other causes of stress on paper to present to the university management.
The forum was the highlight for Tanay as the team was involved in planning its narrative while also coordinating the logistics of the actual programme.
“It was the first time that we worked together to organise something and to really push something from the ground up, so that was pretty eye opening,” said Tanay.
Rebecca echoed the sentiment, although her most memorable moment was much simpler — coming up with the title of the forum.
“I think that creative aspect of getting everyone’s input and then just pulling in different concepts and different ideas was fun,” shared Rebecca.
She added that they even examined different words in different languages while trying to finalise the title for the forum.
As for Sean, he appreciated how he was able to bond and get to know the rest of the team better through the meetings as well as the lunches and dinners together.
Looking ahead, the IUN will focus on other topics such as employability as well as environmental and sustainability issues.
According to Rebecca, the resource sharing which happens among the different student unions to learn more about the pre-existing initiatives in each school will be invaluable for future projects that IUN will take on.
Sean concurred while underscoring the Government’s support in regard to the youths and in helping to “advocate for shared interests”.
“My greatest takeaway is that support and resources are available, it’s just how we can have a dialogue and how we can really leverage on them.”