A case study of university student networks and the COVID-19 pandemic using a social network analysis approach in halls of residence


The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that young university students have had to adapt their learning and have a reduced relational context. Adversity contexts build models of human behaviour based on relationships. However, there is a lack of studies that analyse the behaviour of university students based on their social structure in the context of a pandemic. This information could be useful in making decisions on how to plan collective responses to adversities. The Social Network Analysis (SNA) method has been chosen to address this structural perspective. The aim of our research is to describe the structural behaviour of students in university residences during the COVID-19 pandemic with a more in-depth analysis of student leaders. A descriptive cross-sectional study was carried out at one Spanish Public University, León, from 23th October 2020 to 20th November 2020. The participation was of 93 students, from four halls of residence. The data were collected from a database created specifically at the university to “track” contacts in the COVID-19 pandemic, SiVeUle. We applied the SNA for the analysis of the data. The leadership on the university residence was measured using centrality measures. The top leaders were analyzed using the Egonetwork and an assessment of the key players. Students with higher social reputations experience higher levels of pandemic contagion in relation to COVID-19 infection. The results were statistically significant between the centrality in the network and the results of the COVID-19 infection. The most leading students showed a high degree of Betweenness, and three students had the key player structure in the network. Networking behaviour of university students in halls of residence could be related to contagion in the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be described on the basis of aspects of similarities between students, and even leaders connecting the cohabitation sub-networks. In this context, Social Network Analysis could be considered as a methodological approach for future network studies in health emergency contexts.

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Benítez-Andrades, J.A., Fernández-Villa, T., Benavides, C. et al. A case study of university student networks and the COVID-19 pandemic using a social network analysis approach in halls of residence. Sci Rep 11, 14877 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-94383-2