Mental health Challenge Competition: Achieving a step change in mental health outcomes for all students
Our Challenge Competition funded higher education providers to generate and test new approaches to improve mental health outcomes for students.
We launched the competition in 2018 and awarded £6 million, with co-funding of £8.5 million, amounting to a total of £14.5 million investment.
We funded 10 collaborative projects, bringing together more than 60 different universities, colleges and other organisations – including the NHS and charities. The projects completed in 2022.
A key part of the programme was evaluating the impacts of the projects and sharing outputs so that higher education providers can apply the lessons to their own support for student mental health and wellbeing.
We have now published the final evaluation report from our independent evaluators, alongside case studies and resources developed by the projects.
Details of funded projects
University of Birmingham
Enhancing student mental health through innovation and partnership
The project created a hub of qualified therapists and volunteers, providing therapeutic interventions for students in open-plan safe spaces without the need for appointments or waiting lists.
University of Derby
Education for mental health: enhancing student mental health through curriculum and pedagogy
The project created a national online toolkit for academics that provides guidance on designing curriculum and assessments that facilitate better student mental health.
University of Keele
Start to success – a whole community approach to supporting student transitions into, through and beyond university
The project championed a ‘whole community’ approach to mental health, working with partners to remove barriers, improve support and enable student success.
University of Lincoln
Transitioning students effectively: a student-led approach to mental health support
The project created a peer-to-peer approach, developing processes, procedures and digital tools to enable students to support each other and themselves.
University of Liverpool
Working in partnership to improve student mental health
The project developed sustainable clinical intervention and improved joined up working through clear referral pathways and interventions.
BRinging Innovation to Graduate Mental Health TogethER (BRIGHTER)
The project provided evidence-based psychological therapy to students in an ‘in house’ clinic run, and early intervention through curriculum-based ‘mind management’ skills training.
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Mental health and analytics: a continuum approach to understanding and improving student mental health
This project focused on innovative integration of technology, advanced educational data analytics, student relationship management, and effective models of support.
University of Nottingham
International student mental health – good practice guidance and intervention case studies
This project aimed to discover what works in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of international students, creating case studies and a practical toolkit.
University of Sussex
SITUATE: Students In Transition at University: Aiming To Enhance mental and social health and wellbeing
This project developed a mental health peer education training programme delivered by older students to younger students at stages of transition.
Project partners: The Mental Health Foundation.
The University of the West of England, Bristol
Student mental health partnerships
The project developed five local 'hubs' in different cities in England, forming partnerships between universities, the NHS and students' unions in each city to improve mental health care for students, connected through a National Learning Collaborative.
Resources have been grouped using the programme priorities of support for students, early intervention and transitions.
Support for students
Examples include developing an integrated approach between provider-level support services and those of local primary care and mental health services, or addressing barriers to accessing support across services and sectors.
- Start to Success online resources
All the resources created in the Start to Success project.
- Evaluation report (PDF version of printed booklet)
An 'ebook' that summaries the Pause@UoB project. Detailing who used Pause, the interventions it included and user satisfaction.
- The Future of Student Mental Health conference illustration
A visual representation of the key outputs from the Pause@UoB project as well as thoughts and suggestions by partners across Birmingham on how student mental health can be better supported across the city.
- Pause@UoB online resources and information about drop-in sessions
Webpages that link to wellbeing recordings, self help challenges and ideas for student welcome weeks.
- Improving student mental health through partnerships project
Information on the U-COPE: Self-Harm service and the U-CAN: Psycho-Social Education skills groups.
- Brighter resources
Webpage that will soon be updated with the Brighter project resources.
- Psychological therapies training and research clinic
Information on the projects cognitive behavioural therapy service for students.
- Clinical governance for mental health services
This clinical governance guidance, published by the University Mental Health Advisers Network, was adapted from a document originally produced by Dr Lucy Robinson as part of the Mental Health Challenge Competition project led by Newcastle University.
- Trust me I'm a student podcast
Led by the University of Manchester, as part of the Student Mental Health Partnerships project led by UWE Bristol, student partners discuss best practice in regards to student coproduction. Sharing experiences of what it is, why it works and the empowerments students have found as a result.
- SPEQs toolkit
Led by the University of Sheffield and University College London, as part of the Student Mental Health Partnerships project led by UWE Bristol, The Student Services Partnerships Evaluation and Quality Standards (SPEQS) toolkit is a practical toolkit for service managers and practitioners striving to develop partnerships to respond to diverse student mental health needs.
- Co-production guide
In collaboration with student minds, UWE Bristol have developed a toolkit to offer practical support to those leading on student co-production development.
- IMPACTS peer research projects
Led by University College London, as part of the Student Mental Health Partnerships project led by UWE Bristol, IMPACTS (IMProving ACcess to Treatment and Support) is a student led research study that seeks to understand students' experiences at university.
- PsychUP for wellbeing
In collaboration with University College London the PsychUP for wellbeing page aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing for staff and students.
This includes providing new forms of mental health literacy training to staff and students, or developing student analytics to inform improved and enhanced interventions.
- Education Mental Health Toolkit
The toolkit includes resources that are research and evidence informed and makes embedding student mental health into the curriculum accessible to individuals, staff and institutions.
This is for all types of students, from school or college into higher education, including innovative approaches to pre-entry support and outreach activity, and into postgraduate study or employment with a focus on susceptible or vulnerable groups.
- Fresher Take podcast
A podcast created by students, for students where hosts discuss different topics each episode, from budgeting to deadline and time management to homesickness.
- Online guides
Guides written for students and staff at all levels of higher education. Covering topics such as managing digital wellbeing and organising summer schools.
- Student Life videos
YouTube channel featuring videos from students, discussing their own experiences and offering advice for their peers.
- Transitioning into higher education
A webpage about transitioning into higher education along with videos about what prospective students can anticipate as they enter university.
- Parent, guardian and teacher resources
Guides that provide information, tips and tricks to utilise with pupils or children. These guides talk about mental and emotional wellbeing and provide links to support services that may be helpful.
- Emotional fitness workshop
Resources for staff to support them in running an emotional fitness and self-care workshop.
- Next steps workshop
Resources for staff to support them in running a looking ahead after further education workshop.
- Getting ahead workshop
Resources for staff to support them in running a skills workshop, focusing on time management, prioritising and procrastination.
- Behind the books campaign
The #BehindtheBooks university campaign aims to help students talk about their mental health, realise when they're struggling, provide tips on ways to cope, and normalise the ups and downs of university life.
- U OK? Peer education workshops
U OK? Is a series of student-designed and student-led workshops.
- Predictors of COVID-19 anxiety in UK university students
This research evaluated UK student mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on factors that contribute to students’ anxiety levels around coronavirus.
- Northumbria University: Mental health analytics: An innovative approach to understanding students’ wellbeing
- Northumbria University: Suicide prevention and data analytics
- University of Birmingham: A community development approach to supporting students’ emotional health
- University of Lincoln: The role of digital mental health support tools and the importance of the student co-production model in supporting their development
- University of Liverpool: Improving student mental health through partnerships
- University of Sussex: A peer education project for sustainable improvements in student transitions
- University of the West of England, Bristol: Collaborative approaches between higher education and the NHS to support student mental health
- University of Birmingham: Enhancing student mental health through innovation and partnership
We have also published:
- a report on 'What works' in supporting student mental health (October 2022)
- a report on co-creating mental health initiatives with students (October 2022)
- a report on higher education and NHS partnerships (July 2022)
- an interim evaluation report (August 2021)
- an 'early findings' evaluation report (September 2020)
- a report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health Challenge Competition (August 2020).
10 July 2023
- New resource added from University of Sussex
15 May 2023
- New case study from University of Birmingham published: Enhancing student mental health through innovation and partnership
10 May 2023
- Added a new resource from Newcastle University: Clinical governance for mental health services
13 October 2022
- Final evaluation reports published
13 July 2022
- Northumbria University suicide prevention and data analytics case study added
12 July 2022
- Page restructure, and new resources and case studies published
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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