Driving new approaches
OfS Challenge Competition: achieving a step change in mental health outcomes for all students
In October 2018 we launched a £6 million Challenge Competition to help higher education providers, working with students, students’ unions and partners such as the NHS and charities, to generate new approaches to mental health issues.
In June 2019 we announced the 10 successful projects. The projects cover a variety of innovative approaches to improving student mental health outcomes and includes more than 50 partners from a wide range of organisations.
See the projects funded by this competition
Catalyst fund: supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students
To support the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students, we’re working with Research England to deliver 17 projects, with a combined £1.5 million investment.
The projects started in March 2018 and will conclude in January 2020. Vitae were commissioned to work with the projects on programme level evaluation with a view to developing good practice to disseminate across the higher education sector.
Details of the funded projects:
Improving transitions and support for PGR students
This project aims to explore the induction programme for PGR students to better prepare them, and manage their expectations of the personal challenges they may experience during their studies.
The project will seek to understand the expectations of PGR students of the demands of study prior to enrolling, and identify what support would have helpful for their wellbeing during the transition. It will also look to identify particular stress points in the PGR journey.
Additionally, working with PGR supervisors, the project will look to clarify their role and establish what additional training is required to aid them with pastoral support.
This project aims to develop an integrated, embedded and sustainable approach to PGR student mental health and wellbeing by aligning its key initiatives with the university's existing strategy.
PGR Connect focuses on developing a peer support network across the PGR research community to create a sense of belonging, promote social connection, and present an open opportunity for wellbeing conversations.
The two phase project will include a full day wellbeing event off campus for newly enrolled researchers, a focus on academic staff involvement, faculty wellbeing engagement action plans, and training for supervisors.
The project team will also collaborate with specialist support services such as academic skills and counselling.
The national PGR student wellbeing online resource
This project aims to provide a national web resource, hosted by Student Minds, that takes a prevention and early intervention approach to support PGR student wellbeing.
The resource, co-produced with PGR students, will consider the whole PGR experience and will be delivered across a range of media.
Each iteration of the resource will be evaluated through qualitative and quantitative feedback from students.
PGR mental health and wellbeing: exploring the role of the supervisory relationship in supporting the PGR experience
This project aims to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students by focusing on the postgraduate supervisory relationship.
The needs of students and supervisors will first be identified through a series of focus groups. These findings will then be used to develop an online open-educational resource with materials to be used for supervisor training, departmental training and PGR student inductions.
The tools developed aim to promote early intervention, recognise the role supervisors have in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their students, and prevent the exacerbation of mental health symptoms.
This project aims to research and pilot innovative approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students.
The project is formed of eight 'strands', led by both students and staff.
Student-led activity will focus on:
- building a cross-faculty research community culture
- resilience training for students
- casual sports and fitness activities – with community focus
- evaluation of existing online support programmes.
Staff-led activity includes:
- support for staff who supervise PGR students
- creation of a tutor support network
- developing a Health Impact Assessment.
There is also a research strand to review mental health issues in PGR students to inform the project; culminating in a national mental health summit.
Preparing for a healthy PhD: piloting a multi-layered induction, training and development framework to support PGR mental health and wellbeing during transition into the early stages of doctoral study
This project aims to develop and pilot a multi-layered training and development framework to support PGR students and the supervisors, pastoral and peer led-groups that support students with their mental health and wellbeing.
The project will increase the knowledge and visibility of disclosure routes, and a pilot of localised interventions will be used to inform the university agenda and impact on wider sector policy.
The project will focus on the induction/early stages of the PhD.
ADAPT: supporting the mental wellbeing of postgraduate research students
The project aims to provide a programme of preventative mental wellbeing support for PGR students, known as ADAPT, that focuses on building resilience. It is comprised of three distinct programmes:
- ADAPT to Grow is an innovative online coaching programme for individual students based on cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching and mentoring techniques.
- ADAPT Together is a cross-disciplinary peer mentoring scheme which will enable students to share advice, address problems together and build positive and supportive professional networks.
- ADAPT to Thrive is an event series highlighting 'failure' (for example, rejected grant proposals or unsuccessful publications) as a normal part of academic career development. Senior academics from UCL and other institutions will share their experiences of setbacks and their tips for moving forward.
Partnerships for improved postgraduate researcher wellbeing and mental health
This project aims to understand wellbeing and mental health issues from a PGR perspective and improve and tailor the provision, support and resources for the community of postgraduate researchers.
There are a number of interventions focusing on prevention, supporting and referring. These include:
- piloting a new wellbeing check
- working with PGR students to develop and implement a peer-to-peer mentoring system, with a programme of training for leaders
- improving PGR student engagement with the university’s wellbeing framework
- developing and improving the visibility of training and wellbeing resources for students and supervisors
- investigating existing wellbeing apps
- looking at improving the pathways of referral and access for PGR students to NHS mental health services.
This project aims to foster good mental health for PhD students by tackling equality, diversity and inclusion-related barriers to wellbeing.
To achieve this, the project will:
- undertake a mapping of PGR student needs, with a particular focus on the way intersecting protected characteristics and forms of disadvantage may affect psychological wellbeing
- identify pathways to address these needs
- develop a programme of mental health and wellbeing activities.
These will then be evaluated, and the learning disseminated and embedded in ongoing institutional practice.
PGR peer support
This project aims to understand what a peer support programme tailored for PGR students could look like, building on the current peer support embedded within colleges that is mainly focused at undergraduates.
It will begin with a pilot working with PGR students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and will then be tried further with other STEM and non-STEM departments.
Of the eight phase programme, the first three phases focus on research: a literature review, focus lunches with students, and research analysis.
Phases 4-8 focus on the implementation of peer support training and involve:
- updating training content and provision
- advertising and recruiting trainees
- delivering training
- registering the new trained peer supporters
- supervising the peer supporters.
Peer support for PGR student wellbeing
This project aims to support PGR students through researcher development sessions, or peer-to-peer workshops.
Current PGR students will deliver workshops to new PGR students covering general researcher skills, but embedded within them will be content on wellbeing-related skills and maintaining wellbeing throughout study.
Workshop leaders will receive training, and students will contribute to the production of materials and their revision, as well as feedback and evaluation of the project.
Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing by increasing mental health literacy and social support
This project aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students by increasing mental health literacy and social support. This is based on research that shows increased knowledge about mental health increases the likelihood that students will seek support if they need it.
The key elements to the project are:
- developing tailored mental health literacy resources for inductions and supervisor training
- establishing mentoring circles
- working with students to establish baseline data and using this to assess the effectiveness of project interventions.
PGR catalyst mental health support
This project aims to promote the good mental health and wellbeing of PGR students through a number of interventions:
- emotional resilience and resourcefulness sessions for PGR students during their induction and at annual cohort days, including expanding their existing 'survive and thrive' workshops
- a weekly support group
- a wellbeing campaign and events
- resources and workshops to support PhD supervisors with pastoral support.
Supporting PGR student mental health
This project aims to develop an evidence-based model for the higher education sector to address the challenge of PGR student mental health.
With a particular focus on prevention and early intervention, the project will carry out a review of existing literature to inform the rest of the programme, which seeks to:
- provide supervisor and staff training
- develop resources for PGR students to enhance awareness of mental health and the support on offer
- deliver mental health management workshops
- implement a funding scheme to support peer-led mental health initiatives and interventions.
The project will also work with local services (NHS) to explore ways to improve referral and access to evidence-based psychological therapies.
The 'potential advantage' project
This project explores the links between wellbeing and personality among the PGR student population.
The students will be invited to complete online personality, wellbeing and mental health tests before and after participation in a term-long wellbeing activity.
The first term activity will be of their choosing, while in the second term they will encouraged to choose an activity based on their personality profile.
The project will measure whether participation in a project activity has improved the mental health and wellbeing of the students who participated, and whether personality plays a role in this process.
Project evaluation will be carried out through the collection and analysis of regular surveys, interviews, and focus groups with participating students.
An integrated online-offline support ecosystem for PGRs enabled by the SAM app
This project aims to address PGR students' mental health related issues through the extension and customisation of the SAM (Self-Help Anxiety Management) app - UWE Bristol’s app for anxiety management.
Development of the new version of the app will be informed by clinical research and will be co-designed with students.
The app will incorporate:
- a range of self-help activities for PGR students
- access to online spaces where students can interact with one another in a peer support network
- tools to connect them with wellbeing support services for monitoring and earlier intervention.
The project aims to internationalise the SAM app’s interface to provide better access, and therefore support to, international students.
WELLBEING WHEN WRITING: an intervention programme for tackling mental health and wellbeing issues arising from the doctoral writing process
The overall aim of this project is to support students in proactively tackling writing-related anxiety and stress to improve confidence, resilience, and a sense of wellbeing.
This will be achieved through:
- delivery of a series of workshops prompting students to identify and discuss the emotions they experience at stages of the doctoral writing process
- three 'masterclasses' delivered by invited academic writers
- two supervisor forum sessions to consider how they can support students' wellbeing through better identification and handling of writing-related anxiety and stress episodes.
The project will be evaluated through a benchmarking survey and by measuring participating students' experience of engaging in the programme.
Research and guidance
We have funded guidance to help university leaders prevent student suicides, published in September 2018 by Universities UK and Papyrus, the UK's national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide.
We are also working to increase understanding of graduate wellbeing outcomes. Our 2018 study on the personal wellbeing of graduates looks at differences between groups of graduates 40 months after graduation.
We are working to create a new independent evidence and impact exchange. Expected to launch in spring 2019, the exchange’s work will include evidence and tools about effective ways for universities and colleges to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Our wider work
The charity Student Minds, with OfS support and funding, is developing a University Mental Health Charter together with Universities UK (UUK), the National Union of Students and AMOSSHE, the student services organisation. The charter aims to make student and staff mental health a priority throughout a university or college, recognise good practice and improve student mental health outcomes.
The OfS is also a member of UUK’s Mental Health in HE Advisory Group which is shaping and supporting UUK’s programme of work to improve mental health in universities.