# Assessment of academic stress and coping strategies among built environment undergraduate students in Nigerian higher education

Joshua Oluwasuji Dada (Department of Quantity Surveying, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria)
Solomon Olusola Babatunde (Department of Quantity Surveying, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria)
Racheal Oluwatoyin Adeleye (Department of Quantity Surveying, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria)

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 28 January 2019

Issue publication date: 18 June 2019

## Abstract

### Purpose

Stress has become an important topic in the academic environment. However, studies on academic stress among built environment students have received little attention. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to assess the causes of academic stress, and its coping strategies among built environment undergraduate students in public higher education institution (HEI) in Nigeria.

### Design/methodology/approach

An extensive literature review was conducted to identify the causes of academic stress and its coping strategies among the students in HEIs, using quantity surveying students as a case. Primary data were elicited through questionnaire survey administered on 189 quantity surveying students in Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. A total of 169 copies of the questionnaire were returned and suitable for analysis. The data obtained were analyzed using the mean score and t-test.

### Findings

The study identified 27 causes of students’ academic stress, and the analysis of the total ranking revealed that 8 out of 27 causes of academic stress were considered important. The results of t-test indicated that except for 5 out of 27 identified causes of student academic stress, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students. The study further identified 30 coping strategies employed by students in dealing with academic stress, out of which six identified coping strategies were considered important. In addition, the results of t-test revealed that except for 11 out of 30 identified coping strategies, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students surveyed.

### Practical implications

The identification of the important causes of academic stress and its coping strategies among the students in the public higher education will be useful for the university management to formulate policies toward providing a well-balanced academic environment that is conducive to better learning. In addition, policy recommendations are proposed.

### Originality/value

The findings will help the academic staff and university management to design and implement policies toward refining the teaching procedures in higher education. Also, this study would be of great value to academic staff and university administrators to develop a framework for incorporating stress coping strategies in the higher education curriculum. This study is important as not many empirical studies relating to academic stress and its coping strategies have been conducted in the built environment disciplines.

## Citation

Dada, J.O., Babatunde, S.O. and Adeleye, R.O. (2019), "Assessment of academic stress and coping strategies among built environment undergraduate students in Nigerian higher education", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 367-378. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-06-2018-0100

## Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

## Introduction

Stress is an essential subject of study in academic sphere, particularly in the field of behavioral science (Rees and Redfern, 2000; Agolla, 2009). Previous studies have focused on the factors or causes of academic stress (see Marshall, 2007; Lu et al., 2008). Similarly, Chan et al. (2018) investigated higher authority organizational stressors encountered by higher education deans in a public higher education institution (HEI) in Malaysia. Others examined its hurtful effects on well-being (Hoogendoorn et al., 2000; Kivimaki et al., 2002) and productivity within organizations (Vance et al., 2004). The empirical studies on students’ academic performance have emphasized some disturbing trends. These studies observed a huge amount of extra-curricular activities, athletic engagements, pressure from securing hostel accommodation, the stress of hectic academic workloads, among others (Bound et al., 2009; Conner et al., 2010). Most of the studies have documented factors affecting students’ performance, yet there is a dearth of studies in Nigeria that have assessed student academic stress in HEIs, especially in the field of built environment.

In addition, some of these studies focused on the field of medicine (see Pryjmachuk and Richards, 2007). The questions now are: can the identified stress among medical students be the same for built environment undergraduate students, since the requirement for successful completion of these programs varies? Based on the identified gaps, this study endeavors to answer the specific questions as follows: what are the causes of students’ academic stress, and what are the relevant coping strategies employed by students in dealing with stress? Neumann and Reichel (1990) posited that students experience burnout as a result of the conditions of learning which require extremely high levels of effort without making available supportive mechanisms that enhance coping. This prompted the present study to assess the causes of academic stress and its coping strategies with a view to provide information on the sources of academic stress and evolve counseling measures that can assist students in higher education. It is believed that this study will help the academic staff and university management to design and implement policies toward refining the teaching procedures and academic activities in higher education.

## Literature review

### Academic stress in the Nigerian HEIs

In Nigeria today, particularly the students in public HEIs are daily stressed within their learning environments which are not optimally conducive for learning. In addition, many of the students are facing challenges due to the pressure from their homes and parents to succeed (Gerry-Eze, 2015). For example, the facilities for learning and teaching activities are inadequate (Azubuike, 2014). It is on this premise that Ezenwanne (2015) asserted that the problems associated with students learning environments exposed the students to academic stress and limited the contribution of graduates to national development in Nigeria. This implied that the Nigerian students encounter a lot of stress which could have adverse effects on their learning and acquisition of skills.

There have been reported the cases of stress among the students in the Nigerian HEIs that have resulted in students protest due to mass failure on a particular course, suicide cases among the students as a result of poor academic performance in tests or examinations and sometimes students have to withdraw from the university when their cumulative grade point average was less than 1.00 in two consecutive semesters. In Nigeria, most of the HEIs are mixed (both male and female) in nature be it university, colleges of education and polytechnics. Academic environments by virtue of their demand are considered as a stressful atmosphere. Resulting from the expected changes, students could experience different types of stress that can affect their mental, social and academic performance (Ibrahim et al., 2015).

In the Nigerian HEIs of learning, students are susceptible to stress that if not properly managed can lead to burnout phenomenon. Therefore, coping strategies of academic stress to students such as effective time management, collective support, engagement in leisure and recreation pursuits among others require empirical assessment. It is against this backdrop that this study empirically assesses the causes of academic stress and its coping strategies among the built environment undergraduate students. The findings of this study will be beneficial to the academic staff and university management/administrators to design and implement policies that reduce academic stress among the undergraduate students to the barest minimum in HEIs.

## Research methodology

This study adopted a literature review, a preliminary investigation and a questionnaire survey. For instance, a comprehensive literature review was conducted to identify the various causes predisposing students to academic stress and the coping strategies employed by the students in HEIs. This study, therefore, identified 27 causes of students’ academic stress and 30 coping strategies, which were used to design a questionnaire survey. The study adopted a questionnaire survey in order to capture wider perceptions of the students. This approach has been widely used by earlier researchers when conducting similar studies involving students (see Agolla and Ongori, 2009; Perera et al., 2017; Tan et al., 2017; among others). The target population for this study is quantity surveying undergraduate students at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria (a public federal university in Southwestern Nigeria). The rationale for selecting this university is as follows: it is a leading university offering quantity surveying honors degree programs in Nigeria and it has the highest number of quantity surveying students’ enrollment at the undergraduate study. The university is offering the quantity surveying honors degree programs only on the full-time basis of five years to include: Part 1 (year 1 students); Part 2 (year 2 students); Part 3 (year 3 students); Part 4 (year 4 students) and Part 5 (year 5 students).

In the context of this study, students in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5 were selected for this study because Part 1 students were considered new in the tertiary educational system and Part 4 students were away for their compulsory six months industrial placement called Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme, when the data for this study were collected. The data were collected in “Rain Semester” of 2016/2017 academic session. Therefore, a preliminary survey was conducted to identify the total number of students in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5. The outcome of the preliminary survey showed that there were 64, 62 and 62 students in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5, respectively. The study adopted a total enumeration of the respondents; thereby a total of 188 respondents were obtained as a sample size. Therefore, 188 copies of the questionnaire were self-administered to the entire respondents, who were voluntarily participating in the survey. Hence, 169 copies of the questionnaire were retrieved and suitable for the analysis. The questionnaires were designed on a five-point Likert scale, where 5 – most important, 4 – more important, 3 – important, 2 – less important and 1 – not important. The questionnaire was divided into two sections – Section “A” and Section “B.” Section “A” contains demographic information from the students to include socio-economic characteristics. Section “B” was designed in relation to the study objectives and comprised 27 identified causes of students’ academic stress and 30 identified coping strategies employed by the students in dealing with academic stress. The data obtained were analyzed using the mean score and t-test through the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS V 21.0). For instance, the mean score was used in the ranking of the 27 identified causes of students’ academic stress and 30 identified coping strategies employed by the students in dealing with the academic stress. Also, a t-test was conducted to determine if there is a statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the ranking of the causes of academic stress and the ranking of coping strategies adopted by the students. The t-test was undertaken at a 95% confidence level, which implies that the level of significance is 5 percent.

## Results and discussion

### Background information of respondents

Table I shows the respondents’ profile comprising their gender, age, monthly stipend, level of study and the nature of the accommodation. The breakdown of 169 copies of the questionnaire retrieved comprised 58, 55 and 56 from Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5, respectively. Further, the gender of the respondents showed that 92 respondents were male students representing 54.4 percent, while 77 respondents were female students representing 45.6 percent. It can be deduced that the percentage representation between male and female students was very close. This implies that the information obtained from the respondents was balanced and adjudged to be appropriate. In addition, the age of the respondents was grouped into “less than 21 years old” and “greater than 21 years old.” It can be seen from Table I that 49.7 percent of the respondents were found to be within “less than 21 years old” and 46.7 percent were found to be within “greater than 21 years old.” The respondents’ overall mean age was 22 years. It is evident that the respondents were mature and found suitable to provide reliable information in relation to the objectives of this study. In terms of monthly stipend, 30.8 percent of the students collected between ₦5,000 (US$14) and ₦10,000 (US$28), while 27.8 percent collected less than ₦5,000 (US$14), and 16.0 percent collected between ₦10,000 (US$28) and ₦20,000 (US$56), while 1.8 percent collected more than ₦20,000 (US$56) from their parents as monthly stipends. Table I further reveals the nature of the accommodation of the respondents. For instance, 46.7 percent of the respondents live in school hostels, while 43.8 percent of the respondents live in a rented apartment.

### Ranking of the causes predisposing students to academic stress in higher education

Table II reveals the analysis of the ranking of the 27 identified causes of students’ academic stress from male and female students’ perspectives. The analysis of the total ranking showed that 18 out of 27 identified causes of academic stress displayed mean score values ranging from 2.56 to 3.74 on a five-point Likert rating scale. Further, Babatunde and Perera (2017) asserted that an attribute was deemed important if it had a mean of 3.0 or more, based on a five-point Likert rating scale. Therefore, it can be deduced from Table II that eight factors scored total mean values greater than 3.00; hence, the eight factors are: lecture room atmosphere; examinations, tests and/or assignments; the lack of time for relaxation; not enough money to do or buy the things that you want; language difficulties; family member’s death or serious illness; parents not understanding students’ school experiences and/or demands; and lack of time to do assigned school work. Thus, the aforementioned eight factors were considered as the important causes responsible for students’ academic stress in the Nigerian public HEIs. These study findings confirmed that academic assessment processes were the prevalent cause of stress in most students in higher education, and they were least stressed by personal and social known factors. These findings were supported by Abiola et al. (2015) who found psychological distress due to academic stress among clinical students in a Nigerian tertiary institution. The authors identified academic stress as the highest in medical students, followed by allied-health students and the least in those who are not in any of these two disciplines. Bedewy and Gabriel (2015) found academic factors as the predominant cause of stress in most students, followed by physical, social and emotional. This was corroborated by Neuderth et al. (2009) who estimated that approximately 15–20 percent of student’s functioning become impaired by examination nerves in a “modest” to “high” degree.

In order to test if there is a statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the ranking of the 27 identified causes of academic stress among students, a t-test was conducted at a significance level of 5 percent. The results indicated that except for 5 out of 27 identified causes of student academic stress, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the causes of academic stress among the students in higher education (see Table II). This implies that there is a high degree of agreement between male and female students on the ranking of the causes of student academic stress. The five factors, where there is a difference in the perception of male and female students, include family member’s death or serious illness; many hours of studies; personal physical health; requirements to study a lot of information at once; and relations with members with opposite sex. The statistical significance values obtained for the five aforementioned factors (see Table II) were less than 0.050 (i.e. p<0.050). This little difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the ranking of the causes of academic stress among the students could be attributed to their varying socio-demographic features associated with academic stress.

### Ranking of the coping strategies employed by students in dealing with academic stress

Table III shows the analysis of the ranking in terms of the total mean score values for the 30 identified coping strategies employed by students in dealing with academic stress from male and female students’ perspectives. The analysis of the total ranking indicated that 12 out of 30 identified coping strategies displayed mean score values ranging from 2.54 to 3.72 on a five-point Likert rating scale. Therefore, it can be deduced from Table III that six factors scored total mean values greater than 3.00; thus, the six factors are: adopt an optimistic or positive attitude; yell, scream or swear; exercise (run, go to the gym, swim, dance, etc.); talk to classmates (friends in your school program) about what is bothering you; think about the bigger picture (your goals or values) to put things in perspective; and go shopping or place of worships, respectively. The aforementioned six factors were considered as important coping strategies employed by students in dealing with academic stress from male and female students in the public higher education.

Further, the results of the t-test revealed that except for 11 out of 30 identified coping strategies, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the relevant coping strategies adopted among the students in public higher education. The statistical significance values obtained for the 11 factors, where there is a the difference in the perceptions of male and female students (see Table III), were less than 0.050 (i.e. p<0.050). This difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the ranking of coping strategies among the students could be attributed to their varying socio-demographic features including their various religious beliefs.

## Conclusions

Academic stress comes to place as a result of the product of all the academic-related demands that surpass the adaptive reserves that students can access. This study showed that students are stressed. For instance, the study revealed the top 8 ranked causes of academic stress among both male and female undergraduate students in a public higher education as follows: lecture room atmosphere; examinations, tests and/or assignments; the lack of time for relaxation; not enough money to do or buy the things that students’ want; language difficulties; family member’s death or serious illness; parents not understanding students’ school experiences and/or demands; and lack of time to do assigned school work. These study findings confirmed that academic assessment processes were the prevalent cause of stress in most students in higher education, and they were least stressed by the personal and social known factors.

The results of the t-test indicated that except for 5 out of 27 identified causes of student academic stress, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students. This little difference in the perceptions of male and female students could be attributed to their varying socio-demographic features. The study further showed the top 6 ranked coping strategies employed by students in dealing with academic stress as follows: adopt an optimistic or positive attitude; yell, scream or swear; exercise (run, go to the gym, swim, dance, etc.); talk to classmates/friends about what is bothering you; think about the bigger picture (i.e. students’ goals or values) to put things in perspective; and go shopping or place of worships, respectively. Also, the results of t-test revealed that except for 11 out of 30 identified coping strategies, there is no statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students on the relevant coping strategies adopted among the students in public higher education.

This study is not without limitations. First, the use of a questionnaire survey in collecting data, having other methods together such as interviews, may enhance the findings. Second, the data were obtained in one public higher education, considering multiple public higher education including officials from the counseling department and student’s affairs would have enhanced the generalizability of the findings. Despite these limitations, the study has practical implications. For instance, the study findings provided greater insights and empirical evidence on the causes of academic stress and its coping strategies among the male and female students in public higher education. These findings would be useful for the administrators in HEIs to formulate policies toward providing a well-balanced academic environment that is conducive for better learning. Also, these study findings will also be beneficial to the academic staff and university management/administrators to design and implement policies toward refining the teaching procedures in higher education. Moreover, this study would be of great value to the academic staff and university administrators to develop a framework for incorporating stress coping strategies in the higher education curriculum.

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are proposed:

• It is important for university administrators to organize workshops at the beginning of every semester for the undergraduate students, especially for those who are in the first year. In these workshops, they should teach some effective time management that will help students to learn and cope with the academic stress.

• Students should be helped with different strategies to improve their ability to cope with a demanding course system. For instance, there is a need to bring a change in the course, particularly the elimination of non-core modules/subjects to reduce the workload on students.

• Academic stress intervention programs must be designed to address the stress of university students. This should be provided to students on a regular basis. The interventions should involve students, lecturers, administrators and school counselors.

For expanding the current research:

• the authors recommend further study involving inter-disciplines in HEIs with a view to find how different disciplines are perceived by students in terms of their stress levels;

• future research should use a larger sample size across various disciplines and consider multiple HEIs including officials from the counseling department and student’s affairs to validate the current findings; and

• additionally, future studies could investigate the relationship between students’ academic stress and coping strategies over time to determine the extent to which specific coping strategies to stress lead to academic achievement.

## Table I

Background information of the respondents

Features Parameters Frequency % Mean
Gender Male 92 54.4
Female 77 45.6
Total 169 100.0
Age <21 years 84 49.7 22 years
⩾21 years 79 46.7
No response 6 3.6
Total 169 100.0
Monthly stipend ≤ ₦5,000 47 27.8 ₦9,672.09 k
₦5,001– ₦10,000 52 30.8
₦10,001– ₦20,000 27 16.0
₦20,001– ₦25,000 3 1.8
No response 40 23.7
Total 169 100.0
Level of study Part 2 58 34.3
Part 3 55 32.5
Part 5 56 33.1
Total 169 100.0
Nature of accommodation School hostel 79 46.7
Rented apartment 74 43.8
Staff quarters 3 1.8
With parent 7 4.1
With relatives 6 3.6
Total 169 100.0

Notes: US\$1= ₦360 (Nigerian Naira); £1= ₦450 (Nigerian Naira)

## Table II

Ranking of the causes of academic stress among the quantity surveying undergraduate students

Causes Total mean Rank Male Rank Female Rank t-test Sig.
Lecture room atmosphere 3.74 1 3.79 1 3.69 1 0.504 0.479
Examinations, tests and/or assignments 3.53 2 3.49 3 3.57 2 0.159 0.690
Lack of time for relaxation 3.51 3 3.67 2 3.33 4 2.826 0.095
Not enough money to do or buy the things that you want 3.40 4 3.35 5 3.47 3 0.293 0.589
Language difficulties 3.28 5 3.40 4 3.13 5 1.782 0.184
Family member’s death or serious illness 3.10 6 3.26 6 2.90 7 3.907 0.050*
Parents not understanding your school experiences and/or demands 3.05 7 3.18 9 2.89 8 2.115 0.148
Lack of time to do assigned school work 3.04 8 3.22 7 2.83 10 3.792 0.053
Many hours of studies 2.95 9 3.16 10 2.70 14 5.008 0.027*
Fear of failing courses 2.94 10 3.03 11 2.85 9 1.082 0.300
Change in eating/sleeping habits 2.89 11 3.02 12 2.78 12 1.028 0.312
Difficulty in learning 2.82 12 2.84 15 2.79 11 0.073 0.788
Being surrounded by classmates that are exceptionally bright 2.74 13 2.90 14 2.54 15 3.417 0.066
Increased class workload 2.73 14 2.91 13 2.97 6 0.150 0.699
Discrimination due to religion, class status or ethnic group 2.71 15 2.70 17 2.73 13 0.020 0.888
Personal physical health 2.65 16 3.22 8 2.03 24 15.443 0.000*
Roommate conflict 2.58 17 2.65 18 2.45 16 1.236 0.268
Lack of confidence in self to be a successful quantity surveyor 2.56 18 2.33 23 2.18 21 0.679 0.411
Conflict with parent over career decision 2.48 19 2.53 19 2.40 18 0.315 0.575
Lack of home atmosphere in hostels 2.45 20 2.51 21 2.40 17 0.396 0.530
Requirements to study a lot of information at once 2.41 21 2.72 16 2.07 23 16.237 0.000*
Rules and regulations of the school 2.38 22 2.53 20 2.20 20 2.907 0.091
Lack of social contacts 2.37 23 2.51 22 2.22 19 1.977 0.162
Combining job with tests, assignments and/or studies 2.17 23 2.31 23 2.05 23 1.532 0.218
Receiving criticism about result from parents, lecturers or friends 2.17 24 2.19 25 2.15 22 0.040 0.843
Multiple tests and/or assignments due on the same day 2.14 25 2.28 24 1.98 26 1.289 0.259
Too many assignments 1.97 26 1.93 27 2.02 25 0.180 0.673
Relations with members with opposite sex 1.79 27 2.00 26 1.54 27 6.080 0.015*

Note: *Significant at 5 percent

## Table III

Coping strategies employed in dealing with academic stress by students

Total mean Rank Male Rank Female Rank t-test Sig.
Adopt an optimistic or positive attitude 3.72 1 3.83 1 3.58 1 2.251 0.136
Yell, scream or swear 3.35 2 3.25 5 3.47 2 2.158 0.144
Exercise (run, go to the gym, swim, dance, etc.) 3.34 3 3.67 2 3.01 5 17.313 0.000*
Talk to classmates (friends in your school program) about what’s bothering you 3.27 4 3.42 3 3.10 3 2.913 0.090
Think about the bigger picture (your goals or values) to put things in perspective 3.06 5 3.07 7 3.04 4 0.165 0.685
Go shopping or place of worships 3.01 6 3.01 8 3.00 6 0.028 0.991
Write about problems and feelings 2.84 7 3.20 6 2.44 11 19.407 0.000*
Pursue a hobby or interest such as cooking, drawing, etc. 2.74 8 3.31 4 2.22 17 29.281 0.000*
Use drugs, such as medications not prescribed to you 2.69 9 2.72 11 2.66 8 0.088 0.768
Have fun with other people to get your mind off the problem 2.66 10 2.85 9 2.44 10 4.384 0.038*
Take a day off from school to sleep or relax 2.55 11 2.79 10 2.29 13 10.018 0.002*
Write creatively (poetry, lyrics, etc.) 2.54 12 2.55 12 2.52 9 0.027 0.871
Sleep to recharge so you can tackle a problem 2.47 13 2.26 19 2.71 7 7.727 0.006*
Sleep to escape or put off the problem 2.39 14 2.52 13 2.27 14 1.749 0.188
Talk to parent(s) about what’s bothering you 2.36 15 2.47 14 2.24 16 1.518 0.220
Watch TV or videos 2.36 16 2.45 17 2.34 12 1.511 0.221
Play videogames or instrument 2.26 17 2.47 15 2.00 22 8.208 0.005*
Become quiet (talk less or not at all to others) 2.24 18 2.24 20 2.24 15 0.000 0.987
Keep problems to yourself 2.09 19 2.47 16 1.66 25 24.712 0.000*
Skip school to avoid tests you are not ready for or assignments you have not finished 2.09 20 2.11 22 2.07 20 0.052 0.858
Smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products 2.08 21 2.17 21 2.02 21 0.556 0.458
Drink alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, liquor, etc. 2.07 22 1.98 24 2.15 18 0.748 0.389
Try to handle things on your own 2.00 23 2.30 18 1.70 24 13.084 0.000*
Go over a negative situation in a conversation with a friend 1.99 24 2.05 23 1.89 23 0.881 0.350
Surf the internet (YouTube, news websites, etc.) 1.97 25 1.81 26 2.12 19 4.031 0.047*
Get annoyed, or irritated 1.66 26 1.91 25 1.35 28 9.592 0.002*
Stop caring about school work 1.64 27 1.70 27 1.60 26 0.317 0.574
Hang out with friends 1.44 28 1.47 28 1.41 27 0.135 0.714
Rely on your faith to help deal with the problem 1.30 29 1.32 29 1.27 29 0.136 0.713
Take part in enjoyable extra-curricular activities 1.21 30 1.27 30 1.16 30 0.469 0.495

Note: *Significant at 5 percent

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