People go to university for a number of reasons, and what they get from the experience can be complex and personal. For students of any age, their journey will contain many challenges, and it is by overcoming these challenges they will learn and grow.
But what if the challenges become overwhelming?
Physical and mental well-being could be seen as the bedrock of the student experience. If this becomes compromised, it affects all other areas of endeavour - study, personal development, social, employability and co-curricular activities.
As accommodation providers to 42,000 students, we do experience serious incidents within our properties each year linked to mental and physical health issues. Every time, we ask ourselves if it could have been prevented, if there is something we could have done. Having reviewed our crisis procedures and carried out an evaluation of our existing practice, we are now in the process of improving and standardising our approach to wellbeing.
Wellbeing can be a subjective term, and correctly so. All students have to work within their individual strengths and limitations, and they will all respond differently to external events. We've therefore avoided simplistic solutions and are developing all our staff - reception, maintenance, security and housekeeping - to work through a process of: Awareness - Inform - Signpost.
Our people are skilled, enthusiastic and passionate about doing the best for students, but they are not trained advisers. We wanted to arm them with the knowledge they need to spot students who may need help or are at risk, and to know how respond. Most importantly we want them to work with university student services teams, students' unions and wider services to ensure students receive the best possible help and advice. We're very grateful to Lee Mansell of Sheffield Hallam University, Carl Hawkes of Hallam Union and Nic Streatfield from York St John for their advice as we developed this approach.
At the recent AMOSSHE conference (the professional association for heads of student services) we learned that our approach has many parallels to an academic tutoring system. In both cases, those who work closely with students are called upon to be at the front line for pastoral support, but must leave the advice and other forms of direct help to the specialists. It made us realise just how central student services are to universities, and how they can extend their reach and impact by working with non-specialists.
We see our new wellbeing approach as a positive step along the road to becoming the business we want to be. But the real point is this: if it prevents serious harm coming to a single student it will have been entirely worthwhile.