Valerie secures Adjournment debate on mental health and higher educaion

On Thursday, 11th June 2015, I led an Adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the issue of mental health in higher education.

I said:

“This is an important issue for students. I called for the Minister to carry out a review of counselling provision in higher education institutions, formulate a policy and fund it properly despite the challenging financial times; to stop the changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) that are planned for 2016-17; to work with the Department for Health so that NHS and university counselling services collaborate in areas with a high student population and to publish guidance so that students who interrupt their studies for mental health reasons are properly supported by higher education institutions during that period.

“Why is this becoming an issue of concern? Study pressure and the continuous annual examinations that young people face from the age of 13—sometimes even younger—to 18. Another possible reason is financial pressure. We are saddling our young people with, on average, a debt of £44,000 at the start of their working lives, which they then have to carry through. The latest figures from the Student Loans Company showed that 30% of new graduates were working but not earning enough to be liable to pay their loans.

“I am concerned that the Royal College of General Practitioners says that tens of thousands of 15 to 34-year-olds are suffering from depression, stress and anxiety. A 2013 survey by the National Union of Students found that 49% of students had felt depressed during their studies; that 55% had felt anxious during their studies; and that 20% considered themselves to have a mental health problem.

”The Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy have produced two consecutive reports that show that students generally feel lower levels of wellbeing than the general population and the 2015 report says that there is a need to improve student support services, including counselling, even in challenging financial times.

“There is good practice from the Open University, a non-campus university that supports lifelong learning. The OU contacts students about their adjustments to ensure that they are supported, giving advice about staying on track, prioritising work and having flexibility with deadlines, and about other adjustments. Students are encouraged to apply for disabled students allowances so that they can access the support of a mental health mentor. They all have access to the guide “Studying and staying mentally healthy.”

“Dr Ruth Caleb, head of counselling at Brunel University and chair of Mental Well-being in Higher Education, has published a timely article entitled “Student Mental Wellbeing: whose responsibility?” She makes many points, but the two most important ones are that ignoring student wellbeing support costs the university or higher education institution a great deal of money when student retention is very important; and that it is the responsibility of the Government and senior management to ensure that students are supported to stay until the end of their course. The more compelling reason is the need to behave morally and ethically for our students.

“We must support our students so that they can discover and unleash their talents and fulfil their potential for the good of us all.”

You can find my speech in full and the rest of the debate here.

The Higher Education Policy Institute/Higher Education Academy Academic Experience Surveys for 2014 and 2015 can be found here and here respectively.

Ruth Caleb chairs the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Group which has produced a good practice guide which can be found here.