The new platform, Student Space, will launch in July with development led by @StudentMindsOrg. It is supported by up to £3 million funding awarded today (17 June) by the @Officetudents (OfS). 

The programme is designed to complement the mental health support already in place through universities, colleges and NHS services in England and Wales – filling potential gaps in provision and ensuring that all students have access to support they need.

Providing both preventative support and immediate interventions, Student Space will aim to limit the mental health impact of the pandemic on students and deliver support where it is most needed – for example for those experiencing distress or trauma. It will:

  • offer immediate help for students in distress through therapeutic interventions – this may include text support, phone listening and guided cognitive behavioural therapy
  • provide educational resources to help students manage stress and maintain good mental health and wellbeing in the context of the pandemic
  • curate a range of quality-assured online resources, such as guidance, apps, peer support platforms, and volunteering opportunities. 

The final content of the programme is being developed in response to emerging student need, with services developed based on ongoing evaluation and assessment.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales have part-funded the project and support will be available to all 2.3 million students from OfS-registered providers in England and from registered Welsh institutions.

Driven by ongoing analysis of the impact of coronavirus on different student groups, the services and resources available will be inclusive and targeted to the needs of the most vulnerable students.

The programme will be funded for a fixed period to support students as lockdown restrictions are eased and through the first term of the new academic year. Its second phase will include transition arrangements so that needs can be met through established sources.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the Office for Students, said:

'The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically impacted students’ day-to-day lives and many will be facing new pressures on their mental health. Students will benefit from targeted support that recognises the specific challenges that the pandemic has brought. It is vital that universities do all they can to support students effectively – this new funding will bolster that effort and help ensure that students have access to the right help where it is needed.

'We have consulted closely with a range of organisations including universities, representative groups, and those working in the NHS to understand where there may be gaps in mental health provision for students, and how those from vulnerable groups can be supported most effectively. Through our funding for the Student Space platform, we aim to make a decisive positive impact for students in the short-term and leave a strong legacy into the future.'

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, announced the programme today in a webinar with the Higher Education Policy Institute, she said:

'From the very start of this pandemic, my top priority has been to protect students’ mental health and wellbeing.

'We’re working closely with the Office for Students and the sector to ensure we’re doing everything possible to give students the support they need at this difficult time.

'I am pleased to announce the new online platform, Student Space, will enable all students at English and Welsh universities to access vital mental health and wellbeing resources, bridging any gaps in student support.

'I urge students to reach out if you need help during this challenging time – make the most of the new platform once available, as well as the range of existing resources out there and support from your university.'

Rosie Tressler OBE, Chief Executive of Student Minds, said:

'Over the past few months we have been listening to students and our university communities about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting their lives: from the transition to online learning, to concerns about the future. Students and staff alike have shown great adaptability amidst the uncertainty, but we also know that the pandemic is deepening existing health inequalities and that there is a clear need for additional mental health and wellbeing support. 

'We welcome the news of dedicated funding to commission support for students, and look forward to working with a broad range of organisations to develop Student Space and provide this much-needed programme. We hope this will become one of many initiatives to support the mental health of students and the wellbeing of the nation.'

The Student Space programme will run for six months, from July to December 2020. It is a short-term, targeted intervention to respond to the particular challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The platform will be developed sustainably, with a view to leaving a long-term legacy of good practice. Student Minds plan for many of the resources to be useful well beyond the initial six-month period. Furthermore, resources created through this programme will be available to all providers across England, building on the practice being developed through the OfS mental health Challenge Competition.

A beta version of the platform will be complete by end July, with a more comprehensive version by mid-August. The programme will be overseen by Student Minds and connect with universities, NHS and third sector support services. Specialist partners will be commissioned to deliver components of the programme as appropriate. The programme will be responsive to needs of students, with evaluation, needs assessment and impact assessments being carried out on an ongoing basis.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the OfS has published briefing notes focusing on vulnerable students on a range of topics, including supporting student mental health and students without family support. The OfS has also confirmed that disabled students and student premium funding can be used during this time to bolster their mental health support services. The £1 million mental health funding competition, announced in March 2020, remains open (but with the deadline currently paused due to the pandemic). This funding competition looks at exploring innovative approaches to tackling some of the barriers and challenges faced by groups of students who may be more at risk of poor mental health.

Overall, the proportion of full-time students in England reporting a mental health condition has more than doubled in the last five years, from 1.4 per cent in 2012-13 to 3.5 per cent in 2017-18. Female students were more than twice as likely to report having a mental health condition than male students. In 2017-18, 4.7 per cent of female students declared a mental health condition, compared to 2 per cent of male students.

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