To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on student mental health.
26 May 2021
Student mental health is a key priority for this government and since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have stressed the importance of protecting student and staff wellbeing. We recognise that many students are facing additional mental health challenges due to the disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Universities are not only experts in their student population, but also best placed to identify the needs of their particular student body. We continue to work closely with the higher education sector to promote good practice.
While it is for higher education (HE) providers to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students to offer that support, the government is proactive in promoting good practice in this area. We continue to work closely with Universities UK on embedding the Stepchange programme within the sector. Stepchange calls on HE leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and take a whole-institution approach, embedding it across all policies, cultures, curricula and practice. The Stepchange programme relaunched in March 2020 as the Mentally Healthy Universities programme. Further information can be found here: https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Pages/stepchange-mhu.aspx. The university Mental Health Charter, announced in June 2018, is backed by the government and led by the sector. The charter, developed in collaboration with students, staff and partner organisations, aims to drive up standards of practice, including leadership, early intervention and data collection. Further information about the charter can be accessed here: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/charter.html.
I have engaged with universities on this issue and have written to Vice Chancellors on numerous occasions during the past year, most recently last month, outlining that student welfare should remain a priority and have convened a working group of representatives from the HE and health sectors to specifically address the current and pressing issues that students are facing during the outbreak.
My hon. Friend, the Minister for Children and Families, and I have also convened a Mental Health in Education Action Group to drive action to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and staff in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities.
We have worked with the Office for Students (OfS) to provide Student Space, a dedicated mental health and wellbeing platform for students, which has been funded by up to £3 million from the OfS in the 2020/21 academic year. We have also 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.