Experts welcome mental health taskforce's focus on new students

Out-Law News | 08 Mar 2019 | 10:59 am | 2 min. read

A new taskforce to help support school leavers' transition into higher education can deliver real improvements to students' mental health and wellbeing, according to legal experts active in the higher education sector.

Julian Sladdin and Victoria Goddard of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, were commenting after the UK government announced that a number of higher education sector bodies will come together in a new taskforce to "support students to deal with the challenges that starting university can include to preserve their mental health". The announcement was timed to coincide with University Mental Health Day.

The Education Transitions Network will be made up of representatives from UCAS, the National Union of Students, Student Minds, Universities UK, the Association of Colleges and the Office for Students. According to the government, the group will "develop measures to help people make a smooth transition into higher education and help students maintain good mental health".

Sladdin said: "In my view this is an extremely important development for student wellbeing in the UK university sector. There has been a need for a more holistic approach to identifying the reasons for the mental health difficulties experienced by students and to trying to put in place better strategies for mitigating or preventing these risks."

"The transition from school to university or college is a very significant step and the associated pressures placed on first-time students and the potential impact on their wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Investment in better support to students making this important transition from school or sixth form is likely to have significant benefits for the future mental health of those students, particularly in the crucial first year in higher education," he said.

Goddard said the development "goes some way to recognising that students' mental wellbeing does not manifest or deteriorate on arriving at university".

"Many students present with mental health issues in schools and the mental health in higher education whitepaper we published on World Mental Health Day last year highlights the work that Leeds Beckett University is doing with schools in this regard," she said.

Pinsent Masons has been involved in the Universities UK taskforce on information sharing on mental health and with the work that the British Property Federation student accommodation sub-committee on mental health is doing with a view to issuing recommendations on how purpose-built student accommodation providers and universities might work to support students with mental health issues.

The education secretary in England Damian Hinds said: "Going to university should be a positive, life-changing experience. Understandably for many young people, the idea of leaving home and starting to live independently can be exciting but also daunting. Juggling challenges like independent studying or managing finances can be hard enough, but with the added element being in a new place, surrounded by new people it can for some be overwhelming. We need to make sure students have the support they need to thrive at university and help these really be the best days of their life."

"I’m delighted to have the expertise of the sector backing this vision and joining this taskforce. Our universities are world-leading in so many areas and I want them to be the best for mental health support too. Pinpointing these key areas which can affect student mental health is essential to the progress we must make to ensure every student can flourish in higher education," Hinds said.