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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
Universities UK is bringing together university leaders, mental health experts, and students and parents to consider when a nominated family member or another appropriately identified person might be contacted if a student is suffering with poor mental health or in acute distress.
The roundtable event today (4 December) will be the first in a series to advise on emerging good practice on the issue of disclosure.
This follows work by UUK to develop the new guidance to help university leaders prevent student suicides, and UUK’s wider work to improve mental health outcomes for all students in higher education. Although data published by the Office for National Statistics shows that there is a significantly lower rate of suicide among university students in England and Wales compared with the general population, university leaders have said that there is no room for complacency.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has indicated he would back a proposed system to flag university students' mental health problems to parents.
Participants at the roundtable will discuss current understanding of the legal framework within which universities reach out to emergency contacts, including confidentiality and GDPR within the law; and how to improve care for vulnerable students through appropriate involvement of the NHS as well as families or other identified informal support, without overriding the rights of young adults to privacy and clinical confidentiality.
Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London and Chair of the UUK round table on consent for disclosure, said:
"We welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to support young people’s mental health through schools and in higher education. We share his urgency that the Department and higher education sector continue to work in close partnership to improve student mental health outcomes.
“Our universities are committed to providing a stimulating and safe environment for our students to support their learning and development. If students do get into difficulty, especially acute mental distress and thoughts of suicide, it's important that we respond in a prompt and coordinated way with NHS crisis services and the often essential informal networks of support provided by families and friends. But it's equally important that we do not override the wishes of the students themselves. It's vital that such disclosures do not make the situation worse.
“We welcome the opt-in schemes being tested at University of Bristol and other universities and we will continue to meet with student groups, university staff, and mental health experts to agree best practice on the issue of disclosure.”
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