Minister for Universities Calls for Greater Focus on Mental Health Issues

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Aug 7, 2018

Minister for Universities Calls for Greater Focus on Mental Health Issues

Minister for Universities and Science, Sam Gyimah MP, has said that “universities must deliver emotional support for students alongside academic courses”

Universities’ main purpose is no longer learning, says Sam Gyimah MP, as he calls for a greater focus on mental health issues in higher education.

Speaking to Centre Write (the quarterly magazine by think-tank Bright Blue), Mr Gyimah said that universities should be acting “in loco parentis” (lecturers and teaching acting in place of the parent) but added that “this doesn’t mean infantilising students - it is about ensuring they have the right services available to them”.

When asked whether university staff should be responsible for students’ pastoral care, he said “I think the crux of this issue is that some traditional vice-chancellors see the prime purpose of their university as training of the mind. This is no longer the case.

“In fact, it’s about so much more. The pastoral care for students has to be there as well for a university to fulfil its full purpose.

“This is in part why I convened a mental health summit on how universities can better provide this pastoral care - which includes mental health support - for students.”

He explains how after speaking with students on his ‘Sam on Campus’ tour, he recognises that there are many factors that exacerbate mental health problems at university.

“One student who really struggled with anxiety and depression in their first year told me that it was the first time they were living away from home and were expected to fulfil completely independent study - so they were worried about fitting in, about getting their work done on time and even finding a partner.

“I think this is one of the problems when finding the right approach to giving students the mental health support they need - so many different factors could be at play.

“Because of this, I’m trying out a whole package of new measures.”

These include a Department for Education-led working group, which will focus on the “transition students face when going to university” and a new ‘University Mental Health Charter’ which will see the development of new standards to promote student and staff mental health and wellbeing.

“Right now, I’m exploring whether an opt-in requirement for universities could be considered, so they could have permission to share information on student mental health with parents or a trusted person,” he says.

The charter will involve a number of key university partners, including mental health charity Student Minds and the Office for Students, and will require universities to adopt a baseline of good practice, including early intervention and close working links with local health services.

You can read the full interview on Centre Write, available now, and learn more about the University Mental Health Charter in our previous article.

For mental health information and professional support, visit Counselling Directory.

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