The education secretary is asking universities to do more for students struggling with their mental health, specifically when it comes to contacting their families if they are at risk of a crisis.
In a letter published ahead of a Universities UK (UKK) event taking place today, Damian Hinds calls for universities to be more proactive when it comes to sharing students’ emergency contact details with their loved ones.
Pointing out that numerous university students experience a mixture of emotions, “many of whom will be leaving home for the first time”, he writes that “ensuring they are supported a key challenge for the department and the higher education sector as a whole”.
“Our universities are world leading in so many areas and I want them to be the best in the world for support and pastoral care as well,” Hinds says. “Ensuring that universities get better at reaching out to family members if a student is struggling with mental health is a big step along the road to delivering that ambition.
“I want to build on the good work done in this area and encourage the sector to work together to find a clear way forward so young people can get the support they need to thrive in higher education.”
The UUK conference is aiming to develop clear guidelines on how and when students’ information should be shared with someone from their support network.
A recent HuffPost UK investigation revealed that just two of the UK’s 20 top universities currently offer the option for parents to be contacted in the event of a student’s mental health crisis.
Bristol and Exeter have “opt-in” data sharing policies allowing students the option of permitting universities to inform parents or guardians if their mental health causes concern.
But none of the other 20 top universities ask students about sharing information with parents as a matter of course, with many citing data protection laws as a reason.
HuffPost UK also found there is confusion over what constitutes an emergency requiring the disclosure of information, with some institutions saying such a situation must be “life or death”, while others say there must be simply a “threat” to wellbeing.