Student Anxiety in Higher Education
: A synthesised approach to examine the impact of anxiety on engagement, participation, and learning

  • Gabrielle Kingston

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Although there is a plethora of literature depicting the prevalence of mental health conditions within society, little considers the specific impact of anxiety in Higher Education [HE]. Specific experiences of transition, test anxiety, mental health prevalence and support provision depict the adversities and obstacles such students are likely to encounter in HE. However, there is a deficiency in understanding the way in which anxiety is experienced by students in HE, the impact that this can have on student identity, participation, and engagement with their studies. These factors are important given the wider implications that this can have on both the educational institution as well as the individual.

The consideration of existing diagnostic tools and depictions of anxiety serve to demonstrate the pervasive and debilitating impact that anxiety can have on individuals to better understand what it means to have anxiety when considering the experience when it is situated in HE. A sociocultural theoretical underpinning will offer a holistic approach to explore the anxiety residing within HE as well as within the wider social milieu. The experiences of twenty participants were collected by conducting face-to-face semi-structured interviews. Participants discussed their experiences of anxiety, coping mechanisms, social relationships, barriers to disclosing their condition or seeking support as well as reflecting on their previous experience of formative education which were subsequently analysed through a theoretical thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; 2021a).

The findings emphasised the distributed nature of anxiety encountered by the participants which often resulted in the disengagement with certain educational practices and environments as a way of mediating or minimising the extent of their anxiety. Educational identity of participants also contributed to the way in which they experienced their anxiety with feelings of perfectionism, fear of failure and engaging with deadlines all contributing to the experience of anxiety. The adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms were identified as a method of enabling them to continue with their studies with an absence to declare adversities until reaching “crisis point”. There is further scope for research to examine how institutions can offer inclusive approaches to supporting individuals struggling with anxiety to engage with the support available and facilitative interventions in periods of disengagement to improve student retention and deliver collaborative approaches to navigating the adversities anxiety presents students in HE.
Date of Award3 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorVicki Smith (Main Supervisor) & Jane Tobbell (Co-Supervisor)

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