Sam Gyimah announced a new charter on students' wellbeing to university vice-chancellors todayPolicy Institute

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah MP has today called for universities across the UK to “dramatically improve” their provision of student welfare support, calling for greater investment in mental health services and devotion of more resources toward identifying at-risk students.

Gyimah announced a new mental health charter today at a summit at the University of the West of England in Bristol, an event attended by vice-chancellors from universities across the UK.

While it is not compulsory for universities to sign the charter, Gyimah warned that institutions which fail to provide better support for students’ mental health “risk failing an entire generation of students”.

The University of Cambridge declined to comment on how the charter will affect Cambridge, emphasising instead their existing and ongoing work to improve mental health provision for students.

They cited their current collaboration with CUSU on reviewing the University’s Fitness to Study procedure and its intermission process in order to provide the best possible support for students. Last November, the University reversed its policy that intermitting students be banned from the city, following a 2016 Varsity investigation which revealed lapses and disparities in welfare support for intermitting students. 

A University spokesperson claimed that “Cambridge has unique challenges that other universities don’t face” due to “tougher” courses and the “greater expectations” that students arrive with, and criticised an “unhelpful media backdrop” which “vilifies our students for seeking help”. 

Gyimah’s call follows the release of Office for National Statistics figures which suggest that 95 students took their own lives in the UK in the 12 months to July last year.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, Gyimah called for: “a new standard that deals with all the elements of mental health”, “a review into how we can better support students in the transition phase between school and university”, and that an “opt-in” process be explored to enable universities to alert the family of students at severe risk of mental health crisis. 

The institutions which the government deems to have successfully meet the standards set out by the charter will be awarded certificates of excellence.

Several organisations will be involved in helping universities meet the standards set out by the charter, including Student Minds, Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students (NUS).

The UPP Foundation – a charity founded by the University Partnerships Programme (UPP) – has given a grant of £100,000 to Student Minds to support the development of the charter.


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Facing up to mental health problems

A University spokesperson said that “while mental health support at Cambridge is extensive”, they “acknowledge the growing need for student wellbeing provision”, citing the creation of four new support posts for students in the coming academic year.

CUSU’s website lists options available for Cambridge students struggling with their mental health, including college porters, the University Counselling Service, and various local and national charities and organisations.

Currently all tutors are trained in supporting the mental health of students as part of their induction, and have ongoing training in weekly meetings with college counsellors or nurses, and staff are aware where to refer students if necessary.

The University said that they are “keen not to impose top-down solutions on the complex questions around how best to support student wellbeing”, claiming they will “continue to work closely with students to identify exactly what factors negatively affect their well being in order to address them”.

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