Cambridge has come under fire in recent years over perceived failings in its mental health policyKatie Kasperson

A petition to introduce a legal duty of care requirement for universities is set to be considered for  debate in Parliament. The law would mean that universities would have a duty to protect their students from reasonably foreseeable harm, caused by either direct injury or a failure to act.

The petition was organised by the campaign group #ForThe100. It is estimated that around one hundred university students commit suicide every year. The campaign believes that any response to this should focus on university management, with safer systems and practices needed.

The #ForThe100 petition passed the threshold of the 100,000 signatures needed to be considered for a discussion in Parliament, having a total of 128,293 signatures when it closed.

If successful, the change in the law would bring universities in line with schools, which already have a legislated duty of care towards their students.

Any laws introduced by Parliament would only affect universities in England, but the campaign hopes that the governments of Scotland and Wales would also implement any laws passed in England.

The campaign is being run in conjunction with The Learn Network (a community of bereaved families which campaigns to prevent suicide) and is supported by relatives of students who committed suicide whilst at university.

The Department for Education previously responded to the petition by saying that higher education providers already had a “general duty of care not to cause harm to their students through their own actions”.

A spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the profound and lasting impact a young person’s suicide has upon their family and friends, and know among the petitioners there are those who have personal experience of these devastating, tragic events.”

They continued: “While press narratives often suggest students are an at-risk population, ONS data from May 2022 shows a significantly lower suicide rate in higher education students compared with the wider population (including students) of similar age. We, therefore, feel further legislation to create a statutory duty of care, where such a duty already exists, would be a disproportionate response.”

The University of Cambridge has come under particular fire in recent years, regarding the mental health services it provides to students. Last year a report commissioned by the University but carried out externally, described the university’s mental health services as “ineffective”, “untargeted” and “unsustainable”.

It found that there was no University-wide strategy for preventing and responding to suicide, pointing to wide variations in the care provided between colleges.

The report also found that the university, despite having one of the largest mental health budgets nationally, has not allocated money effectively in the past. The report was commissioned following the deaths of five students in suspected suicides, over a four-month period.

In the same year, the Student Union (SU) accused the University of a “series of failures” regarding its provision of mental health services.


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The University, in response to the report, launched the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan 2022-2025, which aims to “develop a whole-institution approach to student mental health and wellbeing”.

The plan pledges better access to counselling and increased capacity within the University’s mental health advice and sexual harassment and violence support services. The plan also promises to set up a University student wellbeing team “with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention”.

A spokesperson for the University said: “Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our students and so we have recently launched a new Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan which includes swifter access to counselling, increased capacity in our support services and our Reach Out campaign to ensure students know where to find help. The Reach Out campaign has received high engagement from students across the University.”