To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of a delayed return to in-person attendance at universities on the mental health of students.
28 April 2021
We recognise that many students are facing additional mental health challenges due to the disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the wellbeing of higher education students is vital, and it is important that students can continue to access the mental health and wellbeing support that they need, both whilst learning remotely and when they return to in-person teaching.
We expect higher education providers to continue to support their students, which has included making support services accessible from a distance and reaching out to those students who are likely to be more vulnerable. 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 support.
My hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, has engaged with universities on this issue and has written to Vice Chancellors on numerous occasions, outlining that student welfare should remain a priority. She has also 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 COVID-19 pandemic.
My hon. Friends, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families and the Minister of State for Universities, have also convened a Mental Health in Education Action Group. The group will drive action to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people as they return to educational settings and will provide enhanced support for transitions between educational settings in the autumn.
We have worked with the Office for Students (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 designed to bridge any gaps in support for students arising from this unprecedented situation. It is designed to work alongside existing services and provides dedicated, one-to-one telephone, text, and web chat facilities as well as a collaborative online platform providing vital mental health and wellbeing resources. The platform has been extended to cover the whole 2020/21 academic year.
We have also worked with the OfS to clarify that universities and other higher education providers can draw upon existing funding from the student premium to increase their hardship funds for students. We have made an additional £85 million of student hardship funding available to higher education providers in the 2020/21 academic year. Furthermore, we have asked the OfS to allocate £15 million towards student mental health in 2021/22, through proposed reforms to Strategic Priorities grant funding, to help address the challenges to student mental health posed by the transition to university, given the increasing demand for mental health services. This will target those students in greatest need of such services, including vulnerable groups and hard-to-reach students.
As part of the mental health recovery action plan, the government has provided an additional £13 million to ensure that young adults aged 18 to 25, including university students, are supported with tailored mental health services.
Students struggling with their mental health can also access support via online resources from the NHS, Public Health England via the Every Mind Matters website and the mental health charity Mind: https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/ and https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/student-mental-health-during-coronavirus/.