But ministers will not support a call from bereaved families to impose a legal duty of care on universities.
The UK government has announced it will conduct a nationwide review of university student suicides in the UK to prevent the loss of lives on campus.
Why does the debate take place?
The petition is established by For The 100 campaign team – represents bereaved families and takes its name from the average number of students currently thought to have lost their lives to suicide in the UK each year. It has been argued that student safety should be “legally required” and universities should be held accountable for their decisions.
Among those listening to the debate in Congress were the parents of 20-year-old Natasha Abrahart, who was clinically diagnosed with social anxiety and died in 2018 the day she was due to speak before the panel. classmates in a large lecture hall.
Her relatives sued the University of Bristol, alleging that it had not made “reasonable accommodations” for her under the Equality Act. A judge agreed but rejected the family’s claim that Bristol owes her a duty of care – because that obligation does not exist in law.
“Definitely heaven, you have to try harder”
Nick Fletcher – who started the debate – said he was appalled by some of the examples of student treatment he had heard from the families of the victims. He reports that students are notified via email that they will have to leave their course; marks are not awarded for exams or courses without explanation; and the student’s death is publicly announced before their extended family can be notified.
He pointed to a Voluntary mental health charter several universities have signed on in an effort to promote good mental health and wellbeing throughout higher education – but say they haven’t gone far enough. Fletcher added that a legal duty of care means more support, staff will be trained to a higher standard, and student suicide data will be recorded and published.
Concluding his speech, the congressman told the universities: “Definitely you have to try harder. Let’s focus, you’re considered the brains of this country, you’re doing some good work but you can do even better.”
What do universities want?
UK universities – which represent the sector – say a legal duty of care for students will not be a practical way to support them, especially as many live outside the campus school member.
Professor Steve West, President of Universities UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that means “no level of control and supervision” in schools and prisons where statutory caregiving obligations have been introduced. He called for “working with the government to define best practices”.
What will the government do?
Concluding the debate, universities minister Robert Halfon said he had ordered a “national review of university student deaths” in the UK – to be carried out independently – “to draw lessons from these tragic events and prevent the loss of lives.”
He said there will also be a new Higher Education Mental Health Implementation Task Force working with deceased parents, students, professionals and charities. Halfon confirmed he’s written to all the universities, asking them to adopt the Mental Health Charter next September – and threatening new licensing conditions if they don’t meet the challenge. .
But he said the government disagreed that a legal duty of care was the best way – arguing it would create a “one-size-fits-all” approach where there is no real agreement on What interventions are “most effective” in preventing suicides?