Better data will improve student mental health, says OfS

As 10 mental health pilot projects backed by the Office for Student prepare to get under way, Yvonne Hawkins says the sector ‘can’t afford to wait two years’ for solutions

Data is the key to better mental health among students, according to the Office for Students (OfS).

Yvonne Hawkins, the OfS director of teaching excellence and student experience, was speaking as the regulator’s 10 partnership projects tasked with improving student mental health get under way.

She told University Business: “We can’t afford to wait two years to know what’s coming out of these projects. We’ve already gathered the 60 partners together with an externally appointed evaluator. What we need is really robust evaluation and collaboration built in from the outset.” Hawkins hopes data on student mental health solutions will be fed back to the OfS by early next year.

Read more: Nottingham Trent win Advance HE award for student dashboard

Between 2006/07 to 2015/16, the Institute for Public Policy Research revealed a 94% increase in the number of students disclosing a mental health condition to their institution. Backed by a £14m fund, the OfS projects aim to design scalable solutions for universities.

What we need is really robust evaluation and collaboration built in from the outset – Yvonne Hawkins, OfS

Challenges to mental health services, Hawkins admits, include lack of funding. “These solutions will require leadership commitment to a whole institutional response and must be guided by what students are telling us,” she added.

Strengthening partnerships and collaboration and between schools, colleges, universities and the NHS is at the heart of five of the pilot projects.

“I’d draw attention to the UWE-led and Lincoln projects. I think it’s fair to say that those partnerships already exist between university sector, school sector, NHS and third sector, but these projects are trying to explore what the barriers are to making those collaborations more effective. It’s about making sure you make them more efficient, improve their quality, improve access, and ensure students don’t fall through the gaps.”

“In Lincoln, the team is trying to link up universities and colleges with feeder schools and further education colleges, so providers understand their intake of students and whether they already have a pre-existing condition or pre-existing disclosure. If they know that then there can be continuity of care and support for that individual at a time of transition and potential anxiety.”

Got a news story for UB? Contact James Higgins on 0117 300 5526

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