Funding boost to support student mental health

Eighteen innovative projects across universities and colleges in England will receive funding to support student mental health in a £6 million programme, the Office for Students (OfS) announced today.

Female Asian student studying in library

The package comprises £1 million provided by the Department of Health and Social Care, £2 million from the Department for Education, and £3 million in co-investment from universities, colleges and partner organisations taking part.

Projects are specifically designed to develop targeted interventions, focusing on student groups which may be at an increased risk of poor mental health or might face barriers to accessing support – for example international students, part-time students, or those with caring responsibilities.  

Full details of the funded projects are published on the OfS website. Among those projects included are those led by:

  • Newcastle University Centre: Aimed specifically at commuter students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this project will help improve digital access to mental health support services across five colleges in England.
  • University of Bristol: Addressing the need of autistic students for tailored mental health support, this project aims to develop the first Autistic Mental Health training programme for university staff in the UK. This will involve the working with autistic students to design online training, then delivering that training to staff at several universities.
  • Academy of Contemporary Music Guildford: The project will support undergraduate mental health in smaller or specialist providers, allowing students from multiple institutions across the UK to easily access a digital peer-to-peer mental health mentoring service. Focusing on early intervention it aims to support mature, Black, Asian and minority ethnic students and those studying creative subjects.
  • University of Bradford: Focused on improving the take-up of mental health support by South Asian students, this project will create a mental wellbeing app to help students engage with self-help support and aims to offer an easy access point to university and NHS mental health services.

All projects will run from this summer and will complete evaluation by September 2023. They are designed to deliver improved support in the short term, as well as provide sustainable developments to support good practice across the entirety of the sector.

The OfS continues to fund the website Student Space, which is run by Student Minds and has offered students mental health support for particular challenges faced during the pandemic.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said:

'Having a mental health condition should not be a barrier to success in higher education, but for many students this is still the case. Data shows that students reporting a mental health condition are more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1, and progress into skilled work or further study – compared to students without a declared condition. We also know that students come to university or college from a range of backgrounds and that their individual journey, and the kind of support they require, is likely to be influenced by their specific circumstances.

'That’s why this funding of targeted interventions for student mental health is so important. By paying attention to the diverse needs of students, universities and colleges can fine-tune the support they offer and ensure that all students, regardless of where they are from, have the best chance possible to succeed.

'Working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, we are pleased to be able to fund projects across a range universities and colleges targeting a number of priority groups. We look forward to working with these projects to develop and evaluate innovative and collaborative approaches to targeted support for student mental health, and to support the take-up of this learning for the benefit of students in all parts of the sector.'

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

'Students have faced challenges over the past 18 months – and we know that access to good-quality mental health support can make all the difference to students in supporting them throughout their time at university.

'There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to mental health support. That’s why we are contributing £2 million to these innovative projects from universities and colleges across England which will target the specific needs of those students who are at greater risk of poor mental health. This is part of an additional £15 million we asked the Office for Students to allocate for student mental health, as well as an investment in Student Space, a dedicated student mental health and wellbeing platform which provides vital support to students outside of university.'

Minister for Mental Health, Nadine Dorries, said:

'The pandemic has been particularly difficult for many children and young people and I am committed to supporting their wellbeing and mental health now and in the future.

'Going to university or college can be daunting, especially for those who may be at an increased risk of poor mental health or might face barriers to accessing help.

'That’s why we’re backing a range of innovative projects up and down the country that will enable us to meet students’ diverse needs, ensuring they can access targeted support and can flourish in their higher education.

'We’ve also invested an additional £500 million in our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan which will support those most impacted by the pandemic, including ensuring young adults aged 18 to 25 are provided with tailored mental health services, bridging the gap between children’s and adult services.'

The OfS has also today published an interim evaluation of its initial Mental Health Challenge Competition funding, launched in 2019. According to the evaluation, the programme has been successful in strengthening the prioritisation of mental health in funded institutions and is helping to improve collaboration between students and staff.

For more information contact Richard Foord on 0117 905 7676 or email [email protected].

See full details of the funded projects


  1. See more information on our work on student mental health.
  2. The OfS has a regulatory programme of work to support student success. Improving mental health outcomes is a core part of this. We are supporting innovative practice supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students as well as sharing details of what works well. In October 2020 we invited bids from higher education providers for projects relating to student mental health outcomes, to receive funding of between £70,000 and £200,000, with appropriate co-investment by the provider and project partners.
  3. All projects are collaborative and partners include higher education providers, sector bodies, students’ unions, as well as those from the health sector and third sector. All bids were required to include meaningful co-creation with students throughout the lifecycle of the project including the design, implementation and evaluation phase. We have appointed an independent evaluator, Wavehill, to work with projects and evaluate at a programme level. 
  4. The OfS has provided funding of £145,000 to Student Minds for the development of the University Mental Health Charter, a programme and award accreditation scheme which brings together and recognises universities that demonstrate excellent practice.
  5. Following the outcomes of our consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22, we have recently announced an extension to the online services of Student Space and a national programme to mobilise recent existing effective practice to support student mental health throughout the sector, which will be developed in autumn 2021.
Published 17 August 2021

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