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Mental Health: Higher Education

Health written question – answered on 17th October 2011.

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Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Liberal Democrat, Torbay

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what consideration he has given to amending the legislative provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act 2001 in respect of mental health policy in higher education institutions.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

I have been asked to reply.

Universities have duties under the Equality Act 2010 (which incorporated the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995) to support disabled staff and students in higher education, including those with mental health conditions.

The law establishes a framework of responsibility which higher educations must comply with and also promotes an anticipatory and proactive approach to supporting disabled students, including those suffering from mental illness. This may mean that there will be different approaches taken by different universities on this issue, as they seek to offer provision that anticipates the needs of their students and staff based on the unique circumstances of the institution. Individual institutions will use the law as a baseline standard to establish their own tailored policies, procedures and approaches. The Government have no plans to amend the provisions in the Equality Act relating to higher education institutions' duties towards disabled students.

There is guidance available to universities on supporting students and staff with mental health conditions from a range of sector and medical bodies, including the Heads of University Counselling Services, the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education (AMOSSHE), the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the former Disability Rights Commission and most recently from the UniversitiesUK/Guild HE Working Group for the Promotion of Mental Well-Being in Higher Education.

Students can use an institution's internal complaints process to raise any concerns about discrimination and pursue their complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) if they have exhausted the internal processes and remain dissatisfied with the outcome. Universities are subject to the courts in the application of these duties. Any student who feels they have been discriminated can seek legal advice about their situation, and the advice of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which provides guidance on discrimination matters and has a statutory enforcement role (established in the 2006 Equality Act).

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