Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Next steps for improving student mental health - support frameworks, best practice, and dealing with the impact of the pandemic

Morning, Thursday, 4th February 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference focuses on the next steps in improving support for student mental health.

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials due to attend from DfE, DHSC, the Welsh Government and The Scottish Government.

The discussion at a glance:

  • the University Mental Health Charter - next steps and outstanding issues
  • best practice - looking at examples and latest thinking:
    • the transition to university, building a sense of community, and the experience of student bubbles during the pandemic
    • use of technology for supporting mental health
    • integration of international students and tackling racial harassment
    • relieving anxiety when students are seeking employment
    • supporting students through bereavement
  • COVID-19 - including the impact of university lockdowns, remote learning and social distancing across the HE sector, with reports of:
    • a rise of related concerns amongst students regarding the effect on their mental health
    • the likelihood of increased amounts of remote learning during the next academic year

The agenda:

  • Policy priorities for supporting student mental health
  • Supporting student mental health during the pandemic - transition to university, student bubbles, student retention, remote learning, and improving awareness of support services
  • Building a sense of community remotely
  • Use of technology to support mental health - remote counselling, mental health apps, and identifying, tracking and staying in touch with vulnerable students
  • Addressing specific issues around student mental health
    • International students and mental health - inclusion, integration and tackling racism
    • Providing effective careers guidance, and relieving anxiety for students when they are seeking employment
    • Supporting students through grief - bereavement counselling and mitigating circumstances procedures
    • Understanding mental health issues for BME students and staff in higher education: ensuring better outcomes
  • Next steps for implementing the University Mental Health Charter

Key areas for discussion:

  • COVID-19:
    • Lockdown 3 - the impact on student mental wellbeing on:
      • learning - with reliance on remote learning for most courses and provisions put in place for more hands-on focused studies
      • the university experience - with the absence of social life and engagement with extra curricula and community activities
    • support - the pastoral care required by students in lockdown and how to ensure support systems are put in place by universities
    • isolation - how to address the wider effect that long periods home may have on mental health
    • at-risk groups - best practice in identifying those affected and ensuring timely responses to any mental health issues
    • communication:
      • how best to signpost services to new students and to reengage students coming back to university during the pandemic
      • ensuring regular contact with students and making use of technology in doing so
    • social distancing - assessing best practice and its impact at universities when students are present, and what can be learned for the future, including:
      • remote and blended learning - with some universities planning to teach the coming academic year entirely online
      • student bubbles - assessing implementation and how they are working in practice for safety, wellbeing and learning
      • extra curricula activities - the challenges and how provision has been working, as well as further opportunities for providing access to student societies
    • blame - addressing the stigma attached by some to the perceived behaviour of some students
  • innovation in support - themes raised by the recent OfS report highlighting current concerns as well as innovative ways HEIs have supported student wellbeing during the pandemic, in areas such as:
    • communication - clear and timely information about changes with possible implications for their mental health, such as provision of learning, teaching and assessment, and accommodation
    • early intervention systems - using analytics on student engagement and lecture attendance to adapt the delivery of mental health support
    • heightened need - supporting students through bereavement and grief as well as those that are most vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic, such as BAME students, disabled students, international students and those who have experienced domestic abuse
  • supporting specific student groups:
    • international students - inclusion and integration with a possibly highly remote student body, and tackling hate crime and racism - especially amongst students from Asian backgrounds in the wake of the pandemic
    • economic repercussions of the pandemic - support with graduate labour market prospects and anxiety about finances, with the youngest generations expected to be hit the hardest, as well as those currently studying that have lost jobs used to fund their studies
    • support from the start - how to ensure that efforts to widen participation to different groups are accompanied by effective mental health support when students arrive at university
  •  forward planning and reviewing provision:
    • reviewing available support - as highlighted in the recent Universities UK report of a set of principles for emerging from lockdown
    • likely increases in demand - looking ahead and evaluating the ability of services to cope
    • whole-institution coordination - ensuring a joined up approach is implemented between service providers and coordinating the provision of services
    • informing future practice - learning that can be taken forward from the experience of university planning ahead and adaptation at the height of the pandemic
  • use of technology - its role in supporting student mental health, the experience during the pandemic, and looking ahead to possible future development and use moving forward, including:
    • OpenUpUEA - a case study on work with UAE students to create the first wellbeing app launched by a UK university, combining a mood tracker and details of services on offer
    • counselling - learning from initiatives and collaboration in improving student access to initial mental health support and guidance when in-person support is not possible
    • research priorities - next steps for putting together an evidence base for what works in mental health apps
    • the future for regulating such technologies
  • strategies for supporting student mental health:
    • organisation - priorities for developing a whole university framework for mental health and an integrated approach to delivery of mental health care with NHS and third sector partners
    • the University Mental Health Charter - latest on implementation and impact of with a keynote contribution from Rosie Tressler, Chief Executive Officer, Student Minds
    • excellence in provision - ensuring accessibility of mental health services and identifying students at risk
    • access - encouraging students use help that is on offer, working to destigmatise mental illness and boost visibility of support services, and how institutions can better identify students at risk

Recent developments and data:

  • COVID-19 outbreaks at universities - and concerns regarding the response of HEIs and the impact on the mental health of students, particularly amongst those in their first year of university
  • OFS Annual Review - highlighting the central concern of student mental health throughout the year and announcing a plan to conduct a survey on graduate wellbeing in the academic year 2020-2021
  • latest data - surveys by the NUS and ONS finding that more than half of students (52% and 57% respectively) reporting worsening of their mental health in the previous term
  • national lockdown - with the majority of courses being delivered online until at least mid-February and students being urged to remain where they are
  • Universities Minister announces mental health support for students - including Student Space, now extended to cover the 2020- 2021 academic year, led by Young Minds offering online targeted mental health support for students during the pandemic
  • Coronavirus: Impact on Young People with Mental Health Needs - Young Minds survey highlighting increase isolation, anxiety, fears about the future and a struggle to get the right support
  • Mental health funding competition - from the OfS seeking innovative approaches for improving support in universities in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Care
  • Stepchange: mentally healthy universities - a whole university approach to mental health and wellbeing being emphasised in the recent UUK update to its Stepchange strategic framework
  • Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing for Scotland’s Students - NUS Scotland calling for counselling service improvements and for universities to embed mental health into teaching practices and curriculum design

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from Department for Education; DHSC; The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, and senior government officials involved in this area of public policy, together with representatives from the NHS and private health providers including clinical staff, executive agencies, regulators, public health professionals, digital health, CCGs and integrated care systems, the independent and third sectors, patient groups, local authorities, law firms, consultancies, and others affected by the issues discussed as well as academics and think tanks, along with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Amy Norton

Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Students

Rosie Tressler

Chief Executive Officer, Student Minds

Keynote Speakers

Amy Norton

Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Students

Rosie Tressler

Chief Executive Officer, Student Minds

Jenny Shaw

Student Experience Director, Unite Students


Baroness Tyler

Vice Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health

Lord Lucas


Megan Ball

President, Winchester Student Union

Kate Lister

Lecturer in Inclusive Education, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University

Dr Paul Gorczynski

Senior Lecturer, School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth

Dr Laura Biggart

Associate Professor in Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East Anglia

Dr Kamena Henshaw

Associate Professor in Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East Anglia

Professor Ian Tucker

Director of Impact and Innovation, School of Psychology, University of East London

Yunyan Li

PhD Student, University of Bristol and International Student Ambassador, UKCISA

Graham Philpott

Lead Careers Consultant, Henley Business School, University of Reading

Alice Ludgate

Head of Student Services, University of Plymouth

John de Pury

Assistant Director of Policy, Universities UK

Dr Jason Arday

Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Durham University

Harry Bliss

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, UniHeads

James Smythe

Assistant Principal, Student Experience, The Sheffield College

Ian Munton

Director of Library and Student Services, Staffordshire University