Counselling: Higher Education

Department for Education written question – answered on 21 October 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to increase the accessibility of counselling and support services for students in higher education.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Protecting the mental health of higher education students is a priority for this government and we continue to work closely with the higher education sector to promote good practice in mental health and wellbeing.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has overall policy responsibility for young people’s mental health and we continue to work closely with them to take significant steps to support the mental health and wellbeing support for young people in higher education settings.

DHSC is committed, through the NHS Long Term Plan, to investing at least £2.3 billion of extra funding a year into mental health services by 2023-24. This will see an additional 345,000 children and young people, and adults, able to access support through NHS-funded services.

Higher education providers as autonomous bodies, independent from government, are responsible for their own decisions about how best to support their students. Whilst it is for providers to identify and address the needs of their student body, many providers have boosted their existing welfare and counselling services to ensure support services can be accessed, this is particularly important for those students having to self-isolate or who are affected by local restrictions.

The government has worked closely with Universities UK to embed the Step Change programme within the higher education sector. The strategic framework calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority and embed good mental health practices beyond student service teams. The government expects all providers to engage actively with the guidance.

Student Space, funded with £3 million from the Office for Students, provides dedicated support services through a collaborative online platform to help students access vital mental health and wellbeing resources. The platform bridges gaps in support arising from the COVID-19 outbreak and is designed to work alongside existing services.

In addition, higher education providers have been asked to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of students, enabling them to use funding worth up to £23 million per month from April to July this year and £256 million for the academic year 2020-21, starting from August, to go towards student hardship funds and mental health support.

The government has provided over £9 million to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need. Students struggling with their mental health can also access support via the NHS and online resources from Public Health England, alongside support from the mental health charity Mind.

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