New student mental health platform announced by universities minister

The Office for Students will fund the project that will be overseen by Student Minds

The universities minister has today announced that the Office for Students (OfS) will fund a new online student mental health platform for England and Wales with help from Student Minds.

The new platform was announced by Michelle Donelan during a webinar with the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi). Ms Donelan’s department has awarded the regulator £3m to help back the Student Space scheme, which will also receive funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw).

The six-month project will offer students in both nations text support, guided cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and phone calls. The platform will also host educational tools and quality-assured online resources like apps, peer support platforms and volunteering opportunities.

Ms Donelan told Hepi’s Nick Hillman that the OfS had allocated the funding to “give students the support they need at this difficult time”.

“From the very start of this pandemic, my top priority has been to protect students’ mental health and wellbeing,” she said, adding that the new platform would bridge “gaps in student support”.

“I urge students to reach out if you need help during this challenging time – make the most of the new platform once available, as well as the range of existing resources out there and support from your university.”

Rosie Tressler, chief executive of mental health charity Student Minds, said the “pandemic is deepening existing health inequalities and that there is a clear need for additional mental health and wellbeing support”. The charity will help select and prepare the platform’s materials.

The regulator said today’s announcement was “driven by ongoing analysis of the impact of coronavirus on different student groups” and would be “inclusive and targeted to the needs of the most vulnerable”.

We have consulted closely with a range of organisations including universities, representative groups, and those working in the NHS to understand where there may be gaps in mental health provision
– Nicola Dandridge, OfS

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “We have consulted closely with a range of organisations including universities, representative groups, and those working in the NHS to understand where there may be gaps in mental health provision for students, and how those from vulnerable groups can be supported most effectively.

“Through our funding for the Student Space platform, we aim to make a decisive positive impact for students in the short-term and leave a strong legacy into the future.”

Minister confirms she is ‘actively looking’ at Augar report

Ms Donelan discussed the new project during a 30-minute webinar with Hepi that was broadcast on Wednesday 17 June. During the discussion, Mr Hillman asked the minister about her response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Donelan said that “as a history graduate” she thought it wrong to “seek to censure or edit” our past, adding that she disagreed with universities removing statues or renaming halls.

A campaign is underway at Oxford University to remove a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Liverpool University confirmed last week that it would rename a student halls of residence that bore the name of former British prime minister William Gladstone, who opposed the emancipation movement and who’s father was a slave owner and chairman of the West India Association.

The minister also confirmed that the Augar report “had not been lost” and that it was the government’s intention to respond in full to the post-18 review of education and funding at the time of the next spending review. She said she was “actively looking” at the report’s suggestions, specifically around creating a more flexible, modular approach to lifelong learning.

Hillman pushed the minister to defend the actions of the government’s arms-length HE regulator during the coronavirus lockdown, adding that “some people think the OfS is not having a good crisis”.

Donelan said she thought the OfS had offered the sector “excellent support”, particularly the advice and best practice it had provided institutions as they responded to the lockdown.

Read more: Mixed response from universities to the growing momentum of Black Lives Matter

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