Duty of Care

Managing wellbeing and mental health is critical for the education system where the provision of support services has often been lacking.

At higher education institutions, it is vital that the right help and support is available to meet the needs of both staff and students.

Universities UK, the representative body for UK universities, has said higher education institutions need to put in place appropriate action and contingency planning to manage crises and risks associated with mental distress and illness.

Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the last 25 years, according to a Royal Society for Public Health report.

Higher education institutions have a duty of care to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of their students, and this includes the provision of services to help their mental wellbeing. Failure to meet this duty of care also brings further reputational risk to the institution.

A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found there has been a fivefold increase in the number of students who declare a mental health condition to their institution over the past decade, with levels of suicide by students increasing in recent years.

In the event of student suicide, Universities UK has identified several steps higher education institutions can take to best manage the crisis.

These include sensitive handling of family and friends, effective communications work and appropriate liaison with authorities as well as longer-term work with students and staff. The burden on university leadership teams should not be underestimated, the representative body warns.

Institutions are taking additional steps where appropriate to better manage the risk. At the University of Bristol, an opt-in scheme has been introduced that asks freshers to give consent for university staff to share major concerns with their guardians. The scheme has been introduced after 11 students took their own lives at the university since 2016.

Over the next 25 years, the way in which higher education institutions are able to manage these risks will be enhanced by emerging technology.

A wider range of individual and personalised technological mental wellbeing support apps and tools are expected to emerge as start-ups see the opportunities on offer in this field.

An increasingly systematic approach to data sharing could feed into early alert or warning system to detect changes in behaviour. A data flow from day one in school to university could provide data points around the individual educational journey of a student in order to identify outlier behaviour and raise a digital flag where needed.

The use of companion robots to support student’s learning, social and emotional needs is another possibility – this has already been trialled for children with autism spectrum disorder.

How these tools evolve is uncertain, but it is likely technology can help create a pathway that will enable far more effective management of mental health risks during the next 25 years.


Published date: 11th September 2019

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Risk Management Partners Limited is authorised and regulated
by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Registered office: The Walbrook Building 25 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AW.
Registered in England and Wales. Company no. 2989025.