The Institute of Education (IOE) and the Widening Participation department at St Mary’s University, Twickenham have successfully bid for over £180,000 to lead a study into mental health support at universities.
The grant, awarded by the Office for Students (OfS), will see St Mary’s work collaboratively with teams at King’s College London, the University of West London, and Maudsley Learning (South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust), on a project exploring mental health and wellbeing interventions for students who first in their families to attend university, or who are studying without specific kinds of support from their families, such as estranged or care-experienced students.
First generation university students, many of whom are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as students who receive little or no family support, are at increased risk of poor mental health, social isolation, and non-continuation as they make their way through critical transition points in their university careers.
Students encounter many transition points through their university careers, such as entering and leaving university and moving between academic years and semester breaks. Negotiating these also includes adapting to and coping with academic and financial pressures and contrasts between home and university life, building new relationships, increasing independence, as well as possible homesickness, and other aspects of student life.
This project, which will be coordinated by Nikki Anghileri, Head of Widening Participation at St Mary’s and co-designed and co-delivered with students, is led by a combination of expert higher education and mental health professionals. It will generate much-needed evidence of what can improve mental health outcomes for this group of students through the provision of a novel transition support package for first-in-family or independent students. This support package will include psychoeducation training; personal skills development; peer-to-peer support initiatives; mental health drop-in sessions; and online resources.
Speaking of the project, Director of the St Mary’s Institute of Education Prof Anna Lise Gordon said, “We are delighted that our project has been successful in securing OfS funding. This is an innovative project to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of our students even more effectively. We are looking forward to working with our collaborative partners as a joined-up approach between education and health professionals, working closely with students, is the best way to support students on their journey through higher education.”
The grant is part of a wider OfS project to provide £1million of funding to explore innovative and intersectional approaches to mental health support for students.
Speaking of the funding, Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, 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.