07 July 2020

Initial results from an international research project in which LiU is participating show that Swedish students follow official recommendations about hygiene, but not about social distancing.

A person washing hands

Linköping University is engaged in an international research project investigating how students have reacted to the measures introduced as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation in ten countries is being studied: Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, India, France, Spain, Colombia and Belgium.

Two LiU researchers are involved: Karl Wennberg, professor in the Department of Management and Engineering, and Srebrenka Letina, postdoc at the same institution.

“We’re trying to find out how students are faring, and how they have reacted to the enormous social changes that have occurred. All institutions of higher education have been essentially closed during the spring”, Karl Wennberg points out.

The students have been asked in the investigation to estimate their physical and mental well-being. The researchers have also asked how the students view official recommendations, in particular those that relate to hygiene and social distancing.

“We can see large differences between the countries. Swedish and Spanish students are best with respect to hygiene, by which we mean hand washing. But at the same time the Swedish students are worst at social distancing”, says Karl Wennberg.

Spanish students are also best at social distancing.

“The Spanish students seem to have taken this extremely seriously. That’s easy to understand, because they have been under essentially complete lockdown for a long time.”

Another question that is being looked at is the effect of the pandemic on the students’ behaviour.

“In Portugal and Ireland, they have changed behaviour considerably from the pre-COVID 19 period. But in Belgium, India and particularly Sweden, people haven’t changed their behaviour much at all.”

The situation in Sweden differs from that in many other countries, since we have been subject to recommendations, instead of legislation. The investigation is looking at how the recommendations have been received. Do the students view them as something you should follow or as something you must follow?

Karl Wennberg believes that the study can provide important knowledge that can be used to evaluate different strategies for handling a pandemic.

“There have been some surveys of public opinion in Sweden, but very little research on this has been carried out. This is worrying”, he says.


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