English universities will be encouraged to take a “whole university approach” to mental health services through the award of a charter mark, the universities minister is to announce.
Sam Gyimah will launch a plan to develop a new mental health charter – to be created independently of government by mental health charity Student Minds in partnership with organisations including Universities UK – at a summit at the University of the West of England on 28 June.
Although it will be optional for universities to sign up to the charter, it is expected that the vast majority will want to do so.
The government will also consider whether universities should be encouraged to offer learners an “opt-in” which would give institutions permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a trusted person.
Mr Gyimah is expected to call on universities to sign up to “avoid failing a generation of students”.
Student Minds will benefit from a £100,000 grant from the UPP Foundation to help develop the charter.
The charter is expected to build on the approach advocated in UUK’s Stepchange framework, published in September 2017, which was “developed to support higher education senior teams to adopt a whole university approach to mental health”.
Steve West, the UWE vice-chancellor who chaired the UUK working group on Stepchange, said that the framework was designed to “help universities self-assess where they are in the provision of mental health and well-being services and activities”.
The framework was based around eight pillars, including “leadership” – making mental health a strategic priority in institutions – and “early intervention”, with recommendations to “run campaigns against stigma” and “encourage disclosure” of problems by students.
Given that students are likely to split time between university and home but can have only one GP, “changes to policy” might be required, Professor West said.
He argued that student mental health “isn’t just about universities”. There were also “serious issues” for students in schools and colleges, he said, “and that’s partly because, I think, of successive ministers and governments who have focused on one dimension of success: which is all about academic success and the ability to get into a particular university, which I think is a pretty narrow view.”
The “pressures we are putting young people under” are causing “difficulties in terms of their own mental health,” Professor West added. “So it requires a government minister to really engage with this not just at university level but back in schools.”
Data published by the Office for National Statistics on 25 June show that there were 95 recorded suicides among university students for the 12 months to July 2017 in England and Wales, and 1,330 since 2001 – but for the past three years students “had a significantly lower suicide rate compared with the general population of similar ages”.