Universities: Mental Health Services

Department for Education written question – answered on 6 September 2023.

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Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Labour, Tooting

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment has she made of the adequacy of the availability of mental health support within universities.

Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Labour, Tooting

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what estimate she made of the number of university students seeking support for their mental health.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

It is a priority for the government that students are provided with the mental health support they need.

We are taking an approach based on three pillars:

  • Funding vital services and innovative projects via the Office for Students, with £15 million allocated for the 2022/23 academic year to support students starting university for the first time and enable effective partnerships between higher education (HE) providers and local NHS services. £3.6 million was invested to launch Student Space in 2020 and it has since provided nearly 300,000 students with free online mental health resources and confidential support.
  • Spreading and implementing best practice consistently across providers.
  • Clear responsibilities for providers and protection for students, with solutions developed by the Student Support Champion, Professor Edward Peck.

The government does not collect data on the number of students seeking support for their mental health, but we know from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student data that 119,480 students with a registered mental health condition were enrolled in UK HE providers in academic year 2021/22, which is the most recent year data is available. This table is available at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/table-15.

The department recently conducted research on the design and delivery of mental health and wellbeing services to meet the needs of their students. This found that almost all HE institutions (99%) provided in-house self-help resources and the vast majority (97%) offered in-house psychological support for those experiencing poor mental health, either through face-to-face or virtual contact with a counsellor. Research also found a substantial increase in the proportion of HE institutions that now have a specific mental health and wellbeing strategy in place (two thirds in 2022 compared with just over a half in 2019). The report can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mental-health-and-wellbeing-practices-in-higher-education.

While good progress has been made by the sector, the department is going further to protect students’ wellbeing. 61 universities are already part of the University Mental Health Charter Programme and are following the principles the charter sets out for a whole university approach to mental health. Students should have confidence in the support they will receive, whatever university they have chosen to study at, and so the department has set a target for all remaining universities to sign up to the Mental Health Charter Programme by September 2024.

To set out a clear plan and targets for further improvements in mental health support, Professor Edward Peck is chairing the HE Mental Health Implementation Taskforce. The taskforce includes representatives from students, parents, mental health experts and the HE sector, and will deliver a final report by May 2024.

The department is confident the HE sector will rise to meet the challenge set. If the response is not satisfactory, the department will go further, and ask the Office for Students to look carefully at the merits of a new registration condition on mental health.

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