University of Derby leading national project to support student mental health

5 June 2019

A national project to help university teaching staff support the mental wellbeing of their students has been launched today (Wednesday 5 June), backed by funding from Office for Students.

The £2m project, led by the University of Derby, in collaboration with Aston University and King’s College London, Advance HE and Student Minds, will focus on how curriculum design, teaching and assessment processes can have a positive impact on student wellbeing.

Gareth Hughes, Research and Innovation Lead for Student Wellbeing at the University of Derby, said: “There is currently significant concern across the higher education sector about the mental health and wellbeing of university students, with universities reporting increasing demands on services. While research suggests that the number of students experiencing problems with their mental health is increasing, evidence tells us that most students who do experience problems do not access formal support.

“We also know that our environment and things we do each day play a key role in our wellbeing. As a result, there have been calls for a ‘whole university’ approach to student wellbeing, as was outlined in Universities UK’s Step Change framework.

“Our focus is on the curriculum, as it is the only point of guaranteed contact between a university and its students. Evidence from research has shown that how students are taught and assessed can have both positive and negative impacts on both their mental health and learning.”

The project, entitled Education for Mental Health: Enhancing Student Mental Health through Curriculum and Pedagogy, will also focus on non-typical learning spaces, like field trips and work placements, to find ways to ensure that students are prepared and supported through the curriculum to make the most of these learning opportunities.

Backed by £750,000 in funding from the Office for Students, and in-kind contributions from the participating universities, the project is also supported by Advance HE and Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity.

Rosie Tressler, Chief Executive of Student Minds, said: “Across the UK students talk to us about assessment processes, course design and their placements as having both positive and negative impact on their wellbeing. Following the success of our research partnership with Derby and King’s College London to explore the experience of academics last year, we’re thrilled to now be able to co-develop work which will help us find out what works.  We aim to develop tools that will help all academics across the UK to create and provide curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that facilitate better student mental health and educational outcomes.

“We’re really excited about the potential scale and impact of this work. By taking an approach with our partners that will be sustainable, co-designed with students, and embedded in the existing structures that support new academics, we have a real chance to eventually positively impact every student in the UK.”

Dr Juliet Foster, Deputy Dean of Education, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “King’s College London is extremely excited to collaborate in this project. It gives us the opportunity to evaluate the various curriculum-based initiatives focused on student mental health and well-being that are underway at King’s and elsewhere. This research will allow us to develop an evidence base for what works to ensure that all students are able to thrive within higher education.”

Chris Wilson, Lecturer in Learning Innovation and Professional Practice at Aston University, said: “At Aston, we too are delighted to be collaborative partners in this project. It has potential to take our institutional support in new and exciting directions. We look forward to working with others in the sector to drive positive improvements for all.”

Find out more about the successful projects announced by the Office for Students.

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