Every year half a million young people take their first steps into an exciting university career. Although studying closer to home is increasingly common, a significant proportion of students choose to attend university away from home. Regardless of location, this can be a huge and life-changing event. With increasing numbers of students joining university from diverse backgrounds and entry pathways, it's ever more apparent that further work is required to help meet the needs of individuals and provide a smoother transition experience.
It's more than just a geographical move away from home, friends, and family. It's also a cultural change, as students step into different socio-economic circles and networks for the first time, and take their first steps towards financial independence. The expectations and pressure on students as independent learners can also be challenging and isolating, and is often compounded by social expectations of university being the 'time of their lives', when in fact their adult lives are only just beginning.
For many students, these challenges are manageable, and quickly overcome. But for some, these factors often create significant distress, disrupt their academic performance, and can potentially worsen a pre-existing mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. These students face an even more extreme shift as they lose the support they've had from their local counsellors, GPs, college student services, or formal child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) services.
Improved relationships between universities, colleges and schools are vital, as is better communication and data-sharing. The Mental Health Green Paper published in 2018 recommended that the government commit to a full assessment of current school-to-university transition arrangements between child and adult mental health services, and called for an independent review of data sharing and collaboration frameworks. Schools, colleges and universities must be included in this review.
The more that universities can do to get students prepared before they arrive, the better. Student Minds, in partnership with Southern Universities Network, has published a guide to the first few weeks of term, designed to help students prepare through workbook activities and practical case studies. At UWE Bristol we have developed an enhanced induction programme for new students, which signposts available support and includes a new parent and carer advice section on our website, to advise on how best to support loved ones while at university.
Priorities for universities can be found in Universities UK's step change framework, which advocates a whole institution approach to student mental health, while both the Higher Education and Further Education Mental Health Charters – due to be published later in 2019 – will focus on transition.
The freedom students enjoy brings opportunities as well as challenges, and we need to help young people embrace the shift from schoolchild to student, rather than fear it. Starting university should be a rich, exciting and inspiring experience, and by approaching it with proactivity, sensitivity and compassion, we can encourage more students to be successful, and support better mental health for all.
Stuart Rimmer is the CEO at East Coast College and Chair of Association of Colleges Mental Health Policy Group Professor Steve West is the Vice-Chancellor of University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Chair of the Universities UK Mental Health Working Group
School student to university student or pupil to student would be more accurate and respectfl than than school child to student.
Good to see the excellent progress Univerties are making but FE has a long way to go. FE has appears to have no staff training for Autism and Anxiety or understanding of the negative mental impact untrained staff can have on those making the transition from school to college
In addition to better collaboration, I believe it's extremly important that students in secondary school as well as at colleges and universities have easy access to high-quality health and wellbeing information, for example on university websites. Effective signposting is also really important, so that students know of ALL the support that is available to them.