Self-esteem and Psychological Distress of Students with Special Educational Needs in Higher Education


Hoi Nga NGa, Kam Weng BOEYb, Chi Wai KWANc

aCaritas Institute of Higher Education, Hong Kong, China

bCaritas Institute of Higher Education, Hong Kong, China

cThe University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China


(Received 29 June 2022, Final revised version received 01 September 2022)


In recent years, an increasing number of students with special educational needs (SEN) continue their studies into tertiary education. Students with SEN undergo a transition process that reveals more vulnerabilities and make additional efforts to cope with the challenges in higher education. This study investigated the self-esteem and psychological distress of students with SEN in higher education, drawing on secondary analysis of data gathered by the Annual Student Survey of one higher education institution in Hong Kong that included background information (e.g., demographic characteristics, SEN status, family income, etc.) and measures of self-esteem and psychological distress of depression, anxiety, and stress. Students were assessed at the beginning of an academic year (designated T1) and again at the beginning of the following academic year (designated T2). The results showed that the self-esteem of students with SEN deteriorated significantly at T2. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress also increased. The findings strongly suggest that supportive services should be provided for students with SEN to help them face the challenges of transition from secondary to tertiary education and assist them in coping with the challenges of higher education.


Keywords: Inclusive education, psychological stress, self-esteem, special educational needs, higher education

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