UK government appoints ‘champion’ to support student mental health

Out-Law News | 13 Jun 2022 | 2:12 pm | 1 min. read

The UK government has named its first ‘student support champion’ to help higher education providers support students struggling with mental health and engagement.

In a speech last week higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan said Nottingham Trent University vice-chancellor Edward Peck would provide leadership to share best practice and promote new initiatives for how to ensure students remain supported and engaged with their course.

Peck is expected to work with universities to develop guidance and best practice in monitoring student engagement and being able to better identify and support students who are struggling with wellbeing and mental health.

This is likely to include the use of technology to monitor attendance and other data and provide early warning of signs of struggling students so that they can be signposted to appropriate support sooner.

“The appointment of Professor Peck and the commitment to examining how HEs can be more proactive and effective in identifying struggling students sooner and signposting them to appropriate support is long overdue,” said higher education expert Julian Sladdin of Pinsent Masons.

Sladdin Julian

Julian Sladdin

Partner

Recent cases have shown that while universities need to be better at early identification of concerns their students continue to face significant hurdles in trying to access appropriate mental health support from the NHS following any referral

The move follows work carried out in 2018 scrutinising the way higher education institutions supported student mental health, in the wake of a number of suicides at UK universities.

The government then set up a task force to develop guidance on the steps which providers should take to better support student mental health and suicide safety strategies. Alongside this work, the charity Student Minds developed and launched a Student Mental Health Charter, and since 2021 41 higher education providers have signed up to its charter programme.

However, this year’s Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Student Academic Experience Survey (60 page / 822KB PDF) showed that 34% of students considering dropping out of university cited mental health as the reason, while 23% felt lonely most or all of the time.

Sladdin said the introduction of the task force and mental health charter had spearheaded a lot of progress, but the HEPI research showed there were still too many students at risk of becoming disengaged from their studies, and the systems in place both for spotting critical warning signs and supporting student wellbeing required more investment and development on a sector-wide basis.

“However, while identification of these warning signs and appropriate signposting to support will address some of the issues faced by students and their institutions it should also be a focus of government to ensure that young people in the UK also have adequate and timely access to vital NHS mental health services,” Sladdin said.

“Recent cases have shown that while universities need to be better at early identification of concerns their students continue to face significant hurdles in trying to access appropriate mental health support from the NHS following any referral,” Sladdin said.