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)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
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 learning from the impact of the pandemic

Morning, Thursday, 4th February 2021

Online Conference

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

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

Areas for discussion include next steps for the University Mental Health Charter, as well as issues - and examples of best practice - in:

  • 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

We also expect discussion on the impact of remote learning and social distancing across the HE sector in response to COVID-19 - with reports of a rise of related concerns amongst students regarding the effect on their mental health, and the likelihood of increased amounts of remote learning during the next academic year.

Why this is particularly relevant now - the context:

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
  • Next steps for implementing the University Mental Health Charter

Key areas for discussion:

Social distancing

Examples of university best practice and their impact, including:

  • remote, or blended learning combining both online learning and in-person teaching - and with some universities planning to teach the coming academic year entirely online
  • implementation of student bubbles whereby students would stay in close contact with a small group of students from their course

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, such as:

  • ensuring clear, timely communication with students 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
  • 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 with experience of 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 following 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
  • bereavement and grief - helping students to deal with sudden experiences

Forward planning and reviewing provision

  • the importance of reviewing available support for student mental health, as highlighted in the recent Universities UK report of a set of principles for emerging from lockdown
  • looking ahead and evaluating the ability of services to cope with likely increases in demand
  • learning from the experience of university planning ahead and adaptation at the height of the pandemic, and how the experience can inform future practice

Use of technology in supporting student mental health

With technology having taken on a more prominent role during the pandemic - and some universities having created their own mental health apps for supporting student wellbeing and improving their awareness of other support services - we expect discussion of the experience of such technologies as well as their possible future use and development moving forward, including:

  • a case study from Dr Laura Biggart, Lecturer in Social Science Research and Dr Kamena Henshaw, Associate Professor in Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East Anglia who worked with students from the University of East Anglia to create OpenUpUEA, the first wellbeing app launched by a UK university combining a mood tracker and details of services on offer
  • assessing initiatives in improving student access to initial mental health support and guidance when in-person counselling is not possible and the impact on collaboration between stakeholders and sector bodies and informing best practice
  • next steps for putting together an evidence-base for what works in mental health apps
  • the future for regulating such technologies

Next steps for the frameworks to support student mental health

  • 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
  • latest on implementation and impact of the University Mental Health Charter, with a keynote contribution from Rosie Tressler, Chief Executive Officer, Student Minds
  • ensuring accessibility of mental health services and identifying students at risk
  • encouraging students to access help, including by working to destigmatise mental illness and boosting visibility of support services - and how institutions can better identify students at risk

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior officials from DfE, DHSC and other Government departments and agencies, university and college leaders; academics and other higher education professionals; representatives from students’ unions; businesses and their advisors; healthcare practitioners; research organisations; mental health charities; representatives from the NHS; law firms; consultancies; local authority representatives; technology companies; interest groups and the voluntary sector; along with commentators and reporters from the national and trade media.

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

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording 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


Dr Paul Gorczynski

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

Dr Laura Biggart

Lecturer in Social Science Research, 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

Dr Jason Arday

Assistant 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