How to boost university students’ emotional intelligence

How to boost university students’ emotional intelligence

A new study is calling for educators to place a greater focus on their students’ emotional intelligence – not just those in primary and secondary schools, but also at university.

The research, led by University of Sydney Associate Professor Carolyn MacCann, found that students who understood and effectively managed their emotions produced better academic outcomes, as measured by their standardised test scores and grades.

Associate Professor MacCann, with co-authors University of Oxford Centre for Educational Assessment research associate Dr Kit Double and University of New South Wales Associate professor Amirali Minbashian, analysed data from over 160 studies published during 1998- 2019 for their research.

This covered more than 42,000 students from primary school to university across 27 countries.

With the wide coverage, the researchers found that the students’ age, intelligence and personality did not have any effect on how a high emotional intelligence plays a role in yielding better test scores.

“Students with higher emotional intelligence may be better able to manage negative emotions, such as anxiety, boredom and disappointment, that can negatively affect academic performance,” Associate Professor MacCann said.

“Also, these students may be better able to manage the social world around them, forming better relationships with teachers, peers and family, all of which are important to academic success.”

Students with high emotional intelligence also have an easier time understanding emotions and motivations, which can be advantageous in subjects like languages or history.

What educators can do

While not all students have high emotional intelligence, Associate Professor MacCann discouraged testing to identify these students to avoid stigmatising them.

Educational institutions instead should integrate emotional skills development within their curriculum to improve their students’ emotional intelligence as a whole. Giving teachers professional developments – as well as focusing on their wellbeing and emotional skills are also crucial.

Associate Professor MacCann said that making sure teachers know how to understand and develop their students’ emotional intelligence is better than having external specialists handle the training.

In an article published in The Conversation, Associate Professor Rola Ajjawi and lecturer Mary Dracup, both from Deakin University, wrote that universities taking their students’ emotions in consideration can help, especially when they have a hard time coping with failed subjects.

Associate Professor Ajjawi and Dracup said universities should try to make sure to contact their students “with sensitivity and humanity” to understand why the student failed a subject or two so they can deliver interventions that can improve the student’s academic outcomes.

“Universities can offer positive suggestions, helping students to mobilise their own resilience strategies through gaining perspective, addressing health issues and seeking social and academic support,” the authors wrote.