New charter urges universities to make mental health a 'top priority' as minister aims to improve student wellbeing

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Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister, has outlined new initiatives today at a student mental health summit with the aim to promote student wellbeing.

Universities have been called upon to significantly improve mental health services to avoid 'failing a generation of students'. Recognition will be awarded to those universities who meet new mental health standards for students and staff, as set out in a new University Mental Health Charter announced today.

This comes after the publication of new ONS figures this week, revealing that as many as one in four students are seeking mental health support at some universities.

Vice-chancellors were told today that it is no longer 'good enough' to see the role of universities as 'training of the mind and nothing else'. Gyimah stressed that progress can only be achieved with the support of university leadership and that there is an expectation for them to support his new agenda to ensure students no longer 'fall between the cracks'.

The new charter will be developed in partnership with leading charities such as Student Minds and Higher Education bodies. It will require universities to adhere to a new standard of practice, including increased focus on early intervention and creating closer working links with local health services.

Vice-chancellors were told today that it is no longer 'good enough' to see the role of universities as 'training of the mind and nothing else'.

It will also detail basic criteria that universities will need to meet in order to confirm to prospective students and parents that they meet the required support standard for student wellbeing.

Within the new measures is also the provision of a Department of Education-led working group which will focus on the transition between school and university to ensure students have adequate support in the 'critical first year'. This has been highlighted by the Universities minister as a time when students are particularly vulnerable and can 'feel overwhelmed in their new surroundings'. The aim is to form numerous recommendations for schools and universities to adopt.

A third initiative announced today is the exploration of an opt-in requirement for universities to have permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a friend. Gyimah explained that universities should see themselves as acting “in loco parentis” not “infantilising” students but ensuring that enough support is made available.

Under these new proposals, students would be asked in their first week at university if they would like to opt in to the system, nominating a trusted person to be contacted in case of serious mental health problems. This would be entirely voluntary and would also allow for students to change their preference at any time.

'This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but we need to do a better job of supporting students than is happening at the moment.' - Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister

With 94 per cent of universities reporting an increase in demand for mental health support in recent years, Mr Gyimah added: 'This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but we need to do a better job of supporting students than is happening at the moment.'

Bristol's Vice-Chancellor has also previously spoken about exploring an opt-in policy, whilst the father of one student who took their life whilst studying at Bristol has called for a change of data protection.

Featured Image: Flickr / Policy Exchange


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