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Students: Counselling and Health

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL11326, tabled on 9 December 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to provide additional emergency funding for student counselling and wellbeing services.

Answered on

17 December 2020

Protecting student and staff wellbeing is vital – these are difficult times and it is important that students can still access the mental health and wellbeing support they need. We recognise that many students may be facing additional mental health challenges because of the disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is for higher education providers as autonomous bodies to identify and address the needs of their student body and decide what support to put in place. Throughout the pandemic, my hon Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, has asked that providers continue to support their students. This has included making services accessible from a distance, and we encourage students to stay in touch with their provider’s student support and welfare teams as these services are likely to continue to be an important source of assistance. Many providers have bolstered their existing mental health services and adapted delivery mechanisms, including contacting students who may be more vulnerable. Staff at universities and colleges responded quickly to the need to transform mental health and wellbeing services, showing great resourcefulness and good practice.

My hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, wrote to Vice-Chancellors in October outlining that student welfare should remain a priority and has convened a working group of representatives from the higher education and health sectors specifically to address the current and pressing issues that students are facing during the pandemic.

The government has worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to help clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students affected by COVID-19. Providers are able to use the funding – worth around £256 million for the 2020/21 academic year – towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support.

My hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, announced in December that we will also be making available up to £20 million of hardship funding on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students.

We have also worked with the OfS to provide Student Space, which has been funded by up to £3 million by the OfS. Student Space is a mental health and wellbeing platform which aims to bridge any gaps in support for students arising from this unprecedented situation and is designed to work alongside existing services. Ensuring students have access to quality mental health support is a top priority, which is why we asked the OfS to look at extending the platform. We are delighted they have been able to extend the platform to support students for the whole 2020/21 academic year.

In addition, over £9 million has been provided by the government to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need. Students struggling with their mental health can also access support via online resources from the NHS and Public Health England via the ‘Better Health – Every Mind Matters’ website, and mental health charities such as Mind.