Over recent years, a mental health crisis amongst UK students has emerged. According to a 2019 government report, the number of students in higher education experiencing mental health problems has doubled since 2014/2015. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this issue, with over half of students saying that their mental health has deteriorated as a result .
This crisis is mirrored across the education sector, affecting students in Further Education and apprenticeships as well as in Higher Education.
The repercussions of COVID-19, however, are a symptom of a deeper problem rooted in the current conditions within education institutions.
Transitions into education pose a particular challenge. Students arriving at university or college for the first time need to adapt to significant changes, including often moving to a new location, adapting to a new culture, establishing a social network, and coping with disability. Institutional structures also reinforce broader social inequalities and injustices along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability. These factors that are intrinsic to university can give rise to anxiety and stress, and predispose students to mental health disorders.
There is undoubtedly a lack of proper mental health provision, with services such as counselling chronically underfunded across the country, but there are also few attempts from universities to tackle the root causes of, and factors which inflame, students’ mental health issues.
This proposal focuses on building a movement which campaigns for educational institutions taking a preventative approach to students’ mental health by tackling key factors such as discrimination, excessive workloads and limited access to funding and supportive resources.
UK education institutions broadly seem to be failing at addressing the issues relating to students’ mental health: crises are not isolated to specific institutions, they are prevalent in universities across the UK.
There are issues entrenched in the whole education sector regarding this issue. The marketised education system treats students as consumers and encourages universities to run themselves as businesses focused on competing with other institutions. A focus on rankings and generating profit often eclipses the more important focus on students’ actual experiences and, fundamentally, their wellbeing.
As a national body representing students, NUS should advocate for sector-wide efforts to adopt more preventative measures. The structurally embedded nature of the student mental health crisis necessitates a collaborative approach from students across the UK, ensuring that student wellbeing remains central to conversations both at an institutional and national level.
The aim is to transform the structures which currently produce the conditions in which mental health problems are sparked and exacerbated within education institutions, with the ultimate vision being a higher education system which places students and their wellbeing at the heart of university policies and structures. Universities and Colleges will have properly funded mental health support for all those who need it, but this will be combined with a proactive preventative approach to addressing problems that can impact students’ mental health.
Education institutions will:
- Adopt a “whole institution” approach to the issue of student wellbeing, recognising that mental health must be addressed through policies on welfare, education and accessibility.
- Centre principles of liberation and equality in their response to the student mental health crisis, recognising the unique difficulties faced by marginalised students and the need for targeted support. Measures such as improved training for pastoral staff, competent and well-funded support services and inclusive complaints procedures should be developed in consultation with relevant student groups .
- Increase hardship funding provision for students less able to meet the cost of higher education and ensure that this is well-signposted and easily accessible . This should also be supported with measures to remove the financial barriers to accessing specialist support services through setting up targeted funds to cover fees and travel costs.
- Establish advisory and support structures (e.g. welfare hubs) which acknowledge the links between welfare and education provision; these structures could be sites for political education, staff training and skills support for students, in addition to counselling, advice and guidance. Services for students which include trained staff acting as advocates/intermediaries and signposting support, resources and accessibility information could also be incorporated into this system.
Short term goals addressing the immediate issues caused by COVID-19. Medium term focused on things like adjustment support for students that are just entering university. Long term goals focusing on trying to make structural changes to university
Unpack the language of structures to more amicable, clear and definable policy goals. There should be a whole-course approach. Not only preventive. Topics: discrimination, excessive workloads, cultural differences for international & PhD student.
Action attached to policy to conduct further research into sub groups of students needs, international, FE, BAME, Disabled, Carers, Care leavers, Apprentices , LGBTQ+, Trans etc...
Ensure that the institutions work with local communities too so that e.g LGBTQ+ societies link in with external organisation allowing for continued support and safe spaces
What practical solutions are - when will they be implemented - how will they be funded ? An even very rough framework for what we would suggest would be beneficial. Next steps: Organise focus groups w/studs
Not only provision of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the NHS. Cultural training is needed.
We need an international concern group
Amendment: NUS to Campaign to introduce wellbeing and mental health support ratings on university rankings(Submitted by Milo Dack - happy to elaborate further)
Specialist councillors/ therapists for minority groups should be a stated point in the policy
Ask for mental health to be embodied in institutions strategic plans with short and long term goals to measure achievement and impact
Deaf students face specific and unique access issues to mental health services that haven't been addressed. Access to BSL services should be enshrined as they're often forgotten (even by NUS)
Regulations over internal counsellors to ensure a high standard of service and care
disabled students especially deaf and hard of hearing students. assessability of support
NUS promote a 3 stage goals. For short-terms goals to tackle students facing mental problems under COV-19. For a long term goals, reform the services for counselling in the Uni and specialised counselling services
Training for admins, lecturers, departments, and academic staff in general. Urgently.
Lobbying the changes in the government systems for universal change around mental health, including all liberation groups