There are 16 million university students in Europe, with an annual growth rate of over 2% [1
]. Data from the 'Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques'
(OCDE) show that 31% of students quit university dramatically without a diploma, i.e. having failed to achieve their educational/professional projects [2
]. This occurs during the early university years, when young people are establishing, testing and adjusting new psychological identities [3
]. However, according to the Organisation Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) data the proportion of university students who do not take their first diploma varies widely between countries: 40% in the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden, under 25% in Belgium, Korea, Denmark, Spain, France and Japan [2
University students are exposed to mental difficulties related to young adulthood and have also to face with mental and social issues related to students' life [4
]. It is well known that young adults experience psychological disorders, depression, unhealthy behaviours, and suicidal ideation due to their social situation and living conditions [5
]. As students, many of them also face changes in living conditions, lifestyle and environment [7
], while dealing with issues around financial support, social interaction, parental status and loneliness [8
]. Many students live far from home, making them vulnerable to starting smoking and excessive alcohol consumption [9
]. Today, students are expected to be competitive, adding to the pressure and leading to much more stress [10
]. These issues may cause insomnia, anxiety, depression, dietary disorders and behavioural consequences [11
] with an impact on academic achievement [13
]. They may also generate coping strategies [15
] leading to somatic disorders and violent behaviour [16
]. These concerns call for a better integration of education and health care [17
]. One Swedish study found that students appear to have a QoL that is lower than that of young workers of the same age [18
] and is associated with academic failure, job difficulties, and diverse social outcomes later in life [19
]. There is now a pressing need to explore the implications of social relationships, environment and academic employability skills for psychological issues among newly-registered students. Ultimately, interventions should be designed and evaluated, and then the most promising interventions should be implemented on a large scale.
Because social, environmental and economic contexts may vary greatly between countries it is of interest to assess whether those issues differ between universities. Three sites are considered here: in Luxemburg, Belgium and Romania. Although the Grand-duchy of Luxembourg is the smallest country in Europe (506.000 people), it is a multicultural and a multi-language society (about 170 nationalities), and the University of Luxembourg is the youngest in Europe (created in 2003). A cross-university survey "The Students' Quality of Life and Employability Skills (SQALES)", initiated by the research unit INSIDE [20
] was presented to the network of the Foundation of European Regions for Research in Education and Training [21
]. Two European public institutions expressed an interest in similar research; one in Liege (Belgium) and the other in Iasi (Romania). The aims of the SQALES project are: 1) to meet the recommendations adopted at Bergen (2005), under the Bologna Process, that call on universities for high levels of competition and production; and 2) to help all those involved in university education to produce guidance and advice taking some account of existing facilities (health promotion activities, employability workshops, counseling services, support for university work, student union welfare officers) and opportunities for further development [22
]. In a similar vein, the Human Resources Development Canada Department of Research has created a self-rated questionnaire for university students to gauge how convinced they are of having the academic skills needed for employment according to the following dimensions: communication, interpersonal relationships, and capacity for innovation [23
Investigating university students in Eastern and Western Europe is of interest because of disparities in health and socioeconomic issues. Compared to their Western European counterparts, Eastern Europeans have a lower prevalence of depression, weaker social support and poorer health [24
]. A disproportionate number of central and eastern European students exhibit low levels of satisfaction with life, and they are more likely to believe that chance plays a major role in life achievement [25
]. Psychological health, its determinants and comparisons between European countries are receiving increased attention [26
]. Recognising psychological QoL as an issue and monitoring its fluctuation is an essential precondition to providing appropriate services and assistance to support students at university. It is agreed that a student who has a sense of well-being is more likely to achieve his/her goals, complete training, and enter the world of work. This is a major ethical issue, because we are responsible for our young people whom we ask to take up the socio-economic challenges of the current crisis. Therefore, activities with beneficial effects on mental health and well-being promote effective learning [28
]. In this perspective, there is a real need for universities to evaluate the psychological difficulties of students.
Past research has shown that the WHOQoL-BREF is a relevant, reliable and valid cross-cultural scale appropriately used to measure the following four domains: physical, psychological, social relationships and environment [26
]. It is the short-form of the World Health Organisation Quality of Life questionnaire. The World Health Organisation defines Quality of Life (QoL) as "the individual's perception of his/her position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which he/she lives and in relation to his/her goals, expectations, standards, and concerns" [26
]. The cross-cultural nature of the WHOQoL-BREF should make it appropriate as a means of measuring psychological status, social relationships and environment. In the European Union, QoL is considered a high social and public health policy priority that reflects wider public concerns [27
]. In 2008, the European Pact signed in Brussels recognised that the mental health and well-being of the population play essential roles in the economic and social success of the Union [29
]. Studies have confirmed the reliability and validity of the WHOQoL-BREF among students in various countries [30
]. One investigation showed that a health enhancement program improved the psychological domain among medical students in Australia [30
]. A high correlation was found between the psychological domain and existential well-being among social sciences students in Brazil [35
]. QoL is associated with loneliness among students of health services in Turkey [36
]. The psychological domain was found to be related to pparental rearing among university students in Brazil [37
]. Few studies have examined the links between QoL globally and in its four domains [38
]. We did not focus here on the physical domain.
The objectives of this study were to assess the QoL-psychological and to analyse its association with academic employability skills (AES), and other relevant factors among students at three European faculties: the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (F1), Walferdange, Luxembourg, which offers mainly vocational/applied courses; the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (F2), Liege, Belgium, which offers mainly general/academic courses; and the Faculty of Social Work (F3), Iasi, Romania, offering mainly vocational/professional courses. Additionally, we addressed the question of whether there is a difference between students in vocational/applied and general/liberal courses/studies.