Supporting student mental health through collaboration and evaluation

As the OfS announces funding for 18 new projects to support student mental health, Chris Millward explains the programme priorities and how we are sharing effective practice in this important area.

We know that students have experienced huge challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, so a focus on supporting their mental health and wellbeing has become more important than ever.

As part of the role that the Office for Students (OfS) plays in encouraging the sector to improve its support for student mental health, we are pleased to announce the successful projects we are funding in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Education (DfE).

This competition was designed to identify approaches to supporting students who may be at greater risk of poor mental health or who might experience barriers to accessing support, either due to their course, mode of study or other characteristics.

With £1 million investment from the DHSC and a further £2 million from the DfE that we were able to add following the OfS consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22, we have been able to fund 18 projects across a diverse range of providers.

Funding innovation and collaboration

The projects we have funded focus on a range of specific groups and issues, with the aim of stimulating learning that will support practice across a diverse sector:

  • the intersection between ethnicity and mental health
  • barriers and challenges for students with Autism Spectrum Condition
  • first generation students
  • LGBT+ students
  • care experienced students and those without family support
  • mature students
  • international students
  • students from low socio-economic backgrounds
  • students on placements
  • commuter students, students studying part-time or through distance learning.

The projects will run for up to two years. They are all collaborative, with higher education providers working with partners from the health sector, charities and students’ unions.

Bidders were required to demonstrate how they would co-create with students throughout their project. We know the importance of ensuring students have an active voice in the development of approaches to support their mental health.

This is echoed in the early findings from the interim evaluation of the current mental health Challenge Competition projects (also published today).

Funded projects

The projects include a collaboration from Independent HE members, led by ACM Guildford Ltd, focusing on developing more strategic approaches for smaller providers to improve outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, mature students and those on creative courses.

We are also funding a project led by The Open University, which is collaborating with other higher education providers, Student Minds, JISC and UMHAN to consider mental wellbeing in learning for students who do not have a full-time campus experience.

Two projects will focus on supporting the mental wellbeing of students with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). The University of Bristol is developing a training programme for university staff and the University of Chester aims to produce a combination of online and face-to-face tailored support for students with ASC, as well as for their parents, carers and employers.

See a full list of the projects funded through this competition.

Statistics on student mental health

  • A February 2021 survey by the Office for National Statistics suggests that over a quarter (26 per cent) of students reported feeling lonely often or always. This compared with just 8 per cent of the adult population in Great Britain over a similar period
  • In the latest year of OfS access and participation data (2019-20), 4.7 per cent of UK-domiciled full-time undergraduate entrants registered at English higher education providers had a declared mental health condition - this has more than doubled from the proportion of students in 2015-16 (2.3 per cent)
  • In June 2021, UCAS published a report analysing student declarations about their mental health at application stage. The report indicated that some LGBT+ students are around six times more likely to share a mental health condition.

Evaluation and shared learning

We have appointed an independent evaluator, Wavehill, to work with the projects to understand the ways in which different activities and approaches can improve targeted support.

This competition complements our existing mental health Challenge Competition, which brings together more than 60 partners to focus on transitions, early intervention and step change in support. Today we are also publishing a package of outputs as we enter the latter part of that programme. The independent evaluators’ interim report looks at the early impact of the competition and how different projects have approached delivery and co-creation with students.

The report includes views of project leads and staff, partner organisations, key sector stakeholders and student co-creators and provides recommendations. I hope that providers will read it and let us know about innovative work you may be conducting in your own context.

Alongside the report, we have published case studies and resources developed so far by projects in this programme, which include student videos, top tips, Q&A articles and digital resources for staff.

These funding competitions are part of a wider programme of work focused on improving student mental health, which includes funding and support for the University Mental Health Charter and Student Space.


There are no comments available yet. Be the first to leave a comment.
Leave a comment
Published 17 August 2021

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback