OfS Challenge Competition: Achieving a step change in mental health outcomes for all students

In October 2018, we launched a Challenge Competition to help higher education providers to generate new approaches to improve mental health outcomes for students. We worked with students, students’ unions and partners such as the NHS and charities.

The projects cover a variety of innovative approaches and include more than 50 partners from a wide range of organisations.

Details of funded projects

Enhancing student mental health through innovation and partnership

The project will develop an enhanced ‘Pause at University of Birmingham’, creating an innovative and unique ‘hub’ of qualified therapists and volunteers with mental health experience who will provide brief therapeutic interventions for students in comfortable, open-plan safe-spaces without the need for appointments or waiting lists.

The project will deliver these services ‘full-time’ (30 hours per week 50 weeks per year) in a range of environments across the campus ensuring easy access to specialist support for students in their own zones of comfort at their time of need.


The University of Birmingham will work with:

  • The Children’s Society
  • Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Forward Thinking Birmingham.

Drew Linforth, email [email protected]

Website: Pause at University of Birmingham

Twitter: @UoBWellbeing

Education for mental health: enhancing student mental health through curriculum and pedagogy

This project will create an evaluated, national online toolkit for academics that provides evidence-informed guidance on creating and providing curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that facilitate better student mental health while improving educational outcomes.

This material will also be used to develop a national module for the PGCertHE, aligned with Advance HE’s fellowship accreditation, ensuring that new academics, nationally, have the knowledge and skills to support mental health and learning through their teaching.


The University of Derby will work with:

  • Kings’ College London
  • SMaRteN; Student Mental Health Research Network
  • Aston University
  • Student Minds
  • Advance HE.

Gareth Hughes, email [email protected]

Rebekah Moore, email [email protected]

Twitter: @edu4wellbeing

Start to success – a whole community approach to supporting student transitions into, through and beyond university

The project aims to develop and champion an integrated ‘whole community’ approach to mental health and wellbeing for students studying in further and higher education in North Staffordshire.

The region’s universities, colleges, local authorities, police and NHS providers have come together with a common purpose to remove barriers, improve support and services and enable student success.

Working alongside students from across the region, the project will look across all aspects of the student journey to support effective transitions into, through and out of higher education.

Key priorities include a connected training framework, evidence-based interventions for at-risk groups, a regional mental health campaign and new multi-agency approaches to student support.


The University of Keele will work with:

  • Keele Students' Union and Postgraduate Association
  • Staffordshire University (and Students' Union)
  • Stoke-on-Trent City Council
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Midlands Partnership Foundation NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals of North Midlands Foundation Trust
  • Stoke on Trent College
  • Stoke 6th Form College
  • Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group
  • Staffordshire Police
  • Together Active (previously SASSOT).

Ruth Hodkinson, email [email protected]

Katie Laverty, email [email protected]

Website: www.starttosuccess.co.uk

Twitter: @starttosuccess1

Instagram: stories on 'Life at Keele'

Transitioning students effectively: a student-led approach to mental health support

This transitional mental health support project will develop and enable a peer-to-peer approach enhancing and supporting student mental health and wellbeing particularly in relation to transition from school to university.

Taking a city-wide approach, the project will partner with other institutions, support services and student representatives to form a cross-disciplinary team, whose role will be to develop processes, procedures and tools to enable students to support each other and themselves.

The project will develop a set of digital tools and platforms to underpin a self-sufficient approach, which will also be integrated into the school outreach programme and embedded in the curriculum.


The University of Lincoln will work with:

  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Lincolnshire Police
  • NHS (South West Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group)
  • Lincolnshire County Council (Adult Care and Community Wellbeing, Children’s and Mental Health Services)
  • UoL Students' Union
  • Bishop Grosseteste University Students’ Unions
  • Lincoln College
  • Unihealth
  • Expert Self Care.

Cate Neal, email [email protected]

Website: Mental health project

Facebook: UoL Student Life

Working in partnership to improve student mental health

The project will develop sustainable clinical intervention and improved joined up working through clear referral pathways and interventions across a range of presenting issues.

Key partners including two universities, an NHS Trust and a GP practice will work together to address the needs of students with complex mental health needs to reduce opportunities for students to fall through gaps between services.


The University of Liverpool will work with:

  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • MCT NHS Foundation Trust
  • Student Health Centre Brownlow Hill
  • Academic Health Science Network.

Julia Purvis, email [email protected]

Caroline Roberts, email [email protected]

Website: University of Liverpool student support

BRinging Innovation to Graduate Mental Health TogethER (BRIGHTER)

This project has two main strands:

  1. To provide evidence-based psychological therapy to students in an ‘in house’ clinic run and governed by Newcastle University.
  2. Early intervention through curriculum-based ‘mind management’ skills training, with separate courses for undergraduates and postgraduates. These will use evidence-based approaches for improving emotion regulation and for managing common issues in student life (e.g. anxiety, stress, social isolation, managing expectations, imposter syndrome).

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne will work with:

  • Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
  • Child Outcomes Research Consortium
  • University of Northumbria at Newcastle
  • Newcastle University Students' Union.

Lucy Robinson, email [email protected]

Mental health and analytics: a continuum approach to understanding and improving student mental health

This project aims to improve mental health and learning outcomes for all students, match students in need to appropriate health and wellbeing support, and reduce student suicide.

These will be achieved by the innovative integration of technology, advanced educational data analytics, student relationship management, and effective models of support.

The project is a collaboration between sector leading universities and technology companies, students, a mental health charity and sector representative organisations.


The University of Northumbria at Newcastle will work with:

  • Universities UK
  • Buckinghamshire New University
  • University of East London
  • Civitas Learning International
  • Jisc
  • The Student Room Group
  • Microsoft Education
  • Papyrus
  • University of Bristol.

Peter Francis, email [email protected]

James Newham, email [email protected]

Harriet Walshaw, email [email protected]

International student mental health – good practice guidance and intervention case studies

Our project aims to discover what works in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of international students at universities across the UK.

We will seek out established best practice and exemplar case studies in the higher education sector. We will bring this together into a practical toolkit that all institutions can use, to be published by December 2021.

The project is led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Students’ Union, University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, SOAS, SOAS Students’ Union, Student Minds and Campuslife Ltd.

The project is funded by the Office for Students, as part of their Mental Health Challenge Competition Fund.

The project will do this through four key activities with students at its heart:

  1. Student-led Initiatives Fund: Establish a fund that will support student-led work, including establishing peer-to-peer support networks.
  2. Discovery Visits: To visit a diverse range of universities and students' unions to discover the best support available for international students.
  3. Establish an Expert Advisory Group: To gain and share the knowledge and experiences of students, academics and professionals.
  4. Recruiting Project Specialists: To hire mental health specialists to ensure opportunities to trial practice within the project.

The University of Nottingham will work with:

  • University of Nottingham Students' Union
  • Student Minds
  • SOAS
  • SOAS Students' Union
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Leeds Students' Union
  • Campuslife.

Doug Little, email [email protected]

Kirsteen Coupar, email [email protected]

Website: International student mental health project

Facebook: ISMH project

Twitter: @ismh_project

Instagram: ISMH.project

SITUATE: Students In Transition at University: Aiming To Enhance mental and social health and wellbeing

The project will produce a sustainable, best practice model for the higher education sector that supports students and promotes positive mental health and wellbeing at key educational transitions: from pre-university to university and between years at university.

The project will focus on prevention and early intervention.

The project’s key intervention will be a mental health peer education training programme delivered by older students to younger students at stages of transition.

The project will design and deliver interventions for all students, but we will also specifically involve the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities.


The University of Sussex will work with:

  • The Mental Health Foundation.

Jeremy Niven, email [email protected]

Website: SITUATE

Twitter: @SMHPsussex

Student mental health partnerships

This project aims to improve care for students in need of mental health support through the development and evaluation of local partnerships between universities, the NHS and student unions connected together through a National Learning Collaborative.


The University of the West of England, Bristol, will work with:

  • University of Bristol
  • University of Sheffield
  • University College London
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Liverpool
  • Universities UK
  • Student Minds
  • NHS Confederation Mental Health Network
  • NHS England.

Jamie Darwen, email [email protected]

Website: Student mental health partnerships project

Last updated 17 August 2021
17 August 2021
Information and contact details updated for funded projects
02 September 2020
Link added to the evaluation of the OfS Mental Health Challenge Competition
05 August 2020
Link added to the report on the impact of coronavirus on OfS Mental Health Challenge Competition

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