The letter called on Ministers to respond to the growing mental health difficulties in university students, with demand at a particularly high level due to the impact of the pandemicAndrew Couldrige/Reuters

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group (APPUG), Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner wrote to Government Ministers on 5th February urging them to take action to give students experiencing mental health difficulties access to the best possible care. The letter was published on the 11th February.

The letter was co-signed by Chris Skidmore MP (Co-Chair of APPUG) and Baroness Garden of Frognal (Co-Chair of APPUG). 

The Ministers addressed were Michelle Donelan MP (Minister for Universities), Vicky Ford MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families) and Nadine Dorries MP (Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health). 

The letter follows a meeting held by the group on 26th January in which higher education and NHS leaders discussed the impact of the pandemic on student mental health and identified areas of improvement.

“The latest figures from 2018 show 16.9% of 17-19 year olds now have a diagnosed mental disorder and around half of which will now enter higher education,” the letter said. “Mental distress amongst the student population is likely to be far higher still due to the impact of the pandemic on anxiety and isolation.”

While universities are set to spend another £118 million to provide further mental health support to meet the 2020/21 student demand, the letter cited a statement by Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England, that many universities are “creaking under the weight of student demand” and “need additional government investment.”

This letter follows the decision by both Wales and Scotland to allocate £80m and £67m respectively to address student financial hardship and the increased demand on university mental health services. A cross-party group of MPs and peers led by Zeichner and Chair of the Student All-Party Group Labour MP Paul Blomfield MP urged the Government on 28th January to more than double student Covid disruption funding in England from the existing student funding of £265m to over £700m. 

Universities Minister Michelle Donalan announced on 2nd February that the government would provide an additional £50 million funding for student financial hardship in England, and that “Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help”. This is in addition to the £20 million announced in December, bringing it to a total of £70 million. 

Donalan also announced on the 4th February in an open letter to students that “we have asked the OfS [Office for Students] to dedicate £15 million of the Teaching Grant to initiatives to support student mental health especially with the transition from school/college to university.”

While the APPUG’s letter recognised this announcement, it noted that this does not address the burden on mental health support. 

“As a cross-party group, we are now calling on you to work with Treasury colleagues to agree an additional settlement for student mental health support at English higher education institutions as soon as possible”, the APPUG said in its letter.

The APPUG welcomed NHS England Director of Mental Health Claire Murdoch’s announcement of the commitment to students within the NHS Long Term Plan 0-25 years ambition. This plan has committed an additional £2.3 billion per year by 2023 to expand mental health services.

“The Department for Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and NHS England should work closely with universities towards a transformation of NHS services to meet the needs of a growing and diverse student population,” said the letter.

The APPUG emphasised “the lack of adequate support for international students and BAME students,” calling for “new service models to be co-produced with these student groups.”

While the APPUG welcomed Murdoch’s letter to NHS providers calling for students to be able to access care while living away from their term-time address, it also called for an update from “the ministers overseeing different aspects of student mental health support, on what this will look like in practice.”


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“It is essential that students are able to access appropriate services where they are living during this particularly challenging time.”

The APPUG also noted the challenge raised by many vice-chancellors of the increasing rate of students enrolling at their institutions with pre-existing mental health conditions, stating: “An integrated approach to young people’s mental health across schools, colleges and universities would prevent teenagers falling through gaps in services and better equip universities to support students as they enrol.”

The APPUG also inquired into the details and aims of the recently-established Mental Health in Education Action Group announced by Donalan in her letter, and in what ways higher education institutions can get involved. 

This letter follows a report by the Cambridge SU last month which claimed that the Disabilities Resource Centre (DRC) is at “breaking point” due to a lack of resources, staffing and funding. 

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Student Minds Cambridge told Varsity that it “wholeheartedly backs” Zeichner’s calls for increased funding of university mental health services, drawing on the DRC as a service “which provides essential support to many students struggling with mental illness, is chronically understaffed, underfunded and lacking in resources [...] an obvious example of a source of support for students that could be dramatically improved if such funding were to be made available.”