Westminster Higher Education Forum

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

February 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***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 and bereavement
    • ‘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 - the impact on student mental wellbeing, and 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 at 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 how best to make 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 UEA 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 to 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
  • Graduate wellbeing recorded in the Graduate Outcomes survey - recent OfS report finding that graduates reported lower rates of happiness and life satisfaction than the general population
  • 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 increased 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
  • BRIT Challenge 2021 - the latest British Inspiration Trust challenge designed to bring together colleges and universities to improve student and staff mental health and fitness while raising money for mental health charities

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. Also due to attend are representatives from Arden University; Barton Peveril College; Bluenest; CAFRE; Chronically Fabulous; City University of London Students Union; Council of International Schools; Dyson Technology (The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology); Goldsmiths, University of London; Goodenough College; Innox Foundation; Leyton Sixth Form College; Liverpool Hope University; Middlesex University; Mills & Reeve; NHS England and NHS Improvement; Office for Students; Reading University Students' Union; Rose Bruford College; Royal Northern College of Music; Sotheby's Institute of Art; Student Minds; Suffolk County Council; The British Psychological Society; The Open University; The Wolfpack Project; UK Council for International Student Affairs; Ulster University; Union of Students in Ireland; University College Birmingham; University College Dubin; University of Brighton; University of Bristol; University of Cambridge; University of Edinburgh; University of Exeter; University of Hertfordshire; University of Leeds; University of Reading; University of Sheffield, Department for Lifelong Learning; University of Southampton; University of Sussex; University of Westminster; University of York; Waterford Institute of Technology; Weston College; and York St John University.

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

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles