The mother of an aspiring RAF pilot who took his own life after saying he had been told he was nearing “failure” in his studies has criticised a London university for a lack of adequate support.
Michelle Tolley claimed her son Kyle was told by his tutor at Brunel University that he was “on a rocket ship to failure” while in his final year of a three-year degree, a coroner heard last week.
In a letter to the university following Kyle’s death in March 2016, his parents raised concerns over a tutor who they said had cancelled one of their son’s planned experiments and instead undertook the work himself. They believed “all his hard work had been taken away from him”.
“His tutor told him that because he had done it, Kyle now couldn’t do it himself and he was on a rocket ship to failure,” the letter, which was read during an inquest at West London Coroner’s Court last week, said.
The tutor said in a statement that he did not recognise the phrase as something he would have said, and that news of the student’s death had been “a truly incomprehensible event.”
The inquest heard how Kyle had concerns that his worsening mental health would affect his ambition to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot.
Assistant coroner Dr Sean Cummings recorded a verdict of suicide.
Kyle’s mother, Michelle, said after the inquest concluded that universities like Brunel ought now to recognise they are a “business providing a service to students”, and that as a result, support should be equal across the board.
She said: “Tutors need to refrain from having favourites and ensure that they are supporting all of them equally.
“They need to understand that when students choose to undertake a degree course, this becomes their number one priority, so when any mention of failure is discussed with a student, they need to ensure that additional support is made available to them. This was not provided to Kyle.”
A Brunel University London spokesperson said: “Staff and students at Brunel were deeply saddened by Kyle’s death, and in the two years since we have worked closely with the Coroner’s office and reflected on our own practices to be sure that they are as robust as they possibly can be.
“At the time of Kyle’s death, we offered support to students with mental health issues through our free counselling service, by employing Student Welfare and Wellbeing Officers and by training our Personal Tutors. Our on-site Security team provide front-line assistance on campus 24/7, and we also offer support online, by phone and SMS, such as Big White Wall and Nightline. We work hard to remove any stigma around mental health issues, and promote our support services before students start their degree, at induction and throughout the academic year.
“This autumn, we launched a new Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy to ensure that mental health is a strategic priority embedded across all university activities. The strategy also further enhances the range of support we provide, including a new system for staff and students to raise concerns about individuals in need. We also employ Mental Health Advisers to coordinate and monitor our work in this area.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to support any student in need and to continue to improve our services. We extend our sincerest condolences to Kyle’s family once more.”
The inquest into Kyle’s death comes amid mounting scrutiny of mental health support offered to university students.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.