18 May 2020 Publications
18 May 2020 Publications
4 Nov 2021 News
4 Nov 2021 News
4 Mar 2021 Case study
4 Mar 2021 Case study
Last updated on Tuesday 14 Dec 2021 on 9:24am
Our President, Professor Steve West CBE, builds on the insight from the Scottish sector’s Thriving Learners study to set out what is next for student and staff mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation and Universities Scotland joint Thriving Learners report on student mental health and wellbeing in Scotland makes difficult reading. 15,000 students from all 19 universities in Scotland responded to the survey during the months of the second Covid-19 lockdown in 2021. Measures both of population wellbeing and of mental illness, including depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation, reveal a student cohort in severe difficulty.
However, as difficult as these findings may seem, there were no surprises. We know from wider research before and during the pandemic that children and young adults are facing a mental health crisis.
We can speculate about the causes – perfectionism, adverse experiences, an education system based on assessment – and set this within the wider national conversation about stigma and disclosure. But we know from the soaring demand being faced by our own services, the risks we’re managing, and the impact on learning and on staff that, despite our efforts, students are at the sharp end of this crisis.
Despite our efforts, students are at the sharp end of this crisis.
University leaders in Scotland, led by Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, have responded to these findings with commitment and collective energy, developing an action plan for institutional and sector improvement.
We can all learn from their approach. By now we understand that doing more of the same is no longer an option. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that health – including mental health – is fundamental to our success as universities.
Thriving Learners, although conducted in Scotland, highlights a UK-wide issue. Following the example of Scottish universities, we as leaders need to own this and make a collective effort to address it through evidence and innovation.
To better understand what we're facing, we need to work together to undertake research and to acknowledge and act on our findings.
We’ve partnered with market research agency Cibyl to run an annual UK-wide survey of student mental health. The survey has already gone live to over a million students across the UK, but we would be grateful for your efforts to drive up responses. Get in touch with John de Pury for more details.
As a sector, we’re learning all the time to centre the voices of our students and staff in our efforts to improve mental health. We know doing so results in improved engagement and outcomes. The pandemic has accelerated this as a priority.
Staff mental health is a pillar of our whole university approach.
Staff mental health is a pillar of our whole university approach. In the last two years, universities have supported staff through lockdowns and in the return to campus. There is much good practice, but also much work to be done. However, this must not be an oppositional space. I particularly welcome the involvement of the sector trades unions in our Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group.
We should thank NHS England’s National Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch and her team for their support to improve access to and coordination of mental health care for students in difficulties in English institutions. Across the other nations of the UK, a similar partnership approach is emerging.
We know taking this approach to working with the NHS is starting to see results. The Greater Manchester Universities Student Mental Health Service, based on strategic collaboration between the NHS and Manchester’s five institutions, has already simplified pathways and improved experience of care for students. Others are emerging across London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Sheffield, York, Bristol, Exeter and many other localities, and it’s essential that we accelerate these efforts.
Our National Learning Collaborative brings together university–NHS partnerships to share learning and connect into national policy or funding opportunity.
Next month will see the launch of the Student Services Partnerships Evaluation and Quality Standards (SPEQS) toolkit developed by the University of Sheffield and University College London (UCL). The toolkit looks across university-provided and statutory services, emphasising the management of risk and the sharing of data.
Finally, we need to lead this change, not delegate it. Health – the health of our students, our staff, and of ourselves – must be a strategic priority. It underpins everything we do. This is a key theme of my term as President of Universities UK.
As university leaders, we’re committed to transforming lives, but are often not comfortable with transformative approaches to how we and our organisations work. Yet our role in the mental health of our young adults is crucial. It will be fundamental to ensuring future generations of graduates are supported and learn how to support their own health and wellbeing beyond graduation.
Health – the health of our students, our staff, and of ourselves – must be a strategic priority.
In sharp contrast to Wales and Scotland, the English sector still lacks a coherent cross government strategy on young adult mental health. The Westminster government seems to have stepped away from strategic responsibility on this issue, preferring to focus on a series of initiatives – but we will not.
As leaders, we should be central to work to ensure our universities are healthy settings, which prioritise the health of our students and staff and our own health as leaders. There is plenty to do. By collaborating, sharing and forming partnerships, however, we can learn from each other’s good practice and accelerate innovation. Together we have an opportunity to transform a generation. We should grab it with both hands.