Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS

Following a pause to allow universities and colleges to prioritise their response to the pandemic, the @OfficeStudents (OfS) has relaunched its £1 million funding competition to improve #MentalHealth support for students.

Universities and colleges can now bid for funding provided by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to the OfS to explore innovative and intersectional approaches to mental health support for students.

Through the competition, the OfS is inviting universities and colleges to develop and implement projects which provide targeted approaches to improving mental health outcomes for particular groups of students and strengthen links between the health and higher education sectors.

Evidence suggests that students from particular groups with a declared mental health condition have worse outcomes than their peers. For example, OfS data shows that 53 per cent of black students with a reported mental health condition graduated with a first or 2:1 in 2017-18, compared to 77 per cent of all students reporting a mental health condition. Wider studies also show that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to experience mental ill health.

More widely, and as highlighted in a recent OfS briefing note, the ongoing impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) may mean that some groups of students are at higher risk of poor mental health and wellbeing, both during the pandemic and beyond.

Successful bids will receive funding from May 2021, with projects running at least until March 2023. To be considered, all bids must aim to support students from one of the following groups:

  • students with characteristics identified as increasing the risk of poor mental health, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic background
  • students who may experience barriers to accessing support due to their course, mode of study, or other characteristics – for example, commuter and mature students, part-time students, carers and care experienced students, postgraduates, international students and LGBT+ students.

The competition also has a particular focus on projects which use technology to offer digital solutions for students to access mental health advice and care. Other criteria include co-creation with students, development of partnerships and a robust evaluation strategy.

The funding competition will complement our existing £14.5 million mental health Challenge Competition programme, which has funded a network of 10 projects across the country.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

"All students deserve the opportunity to fulfil their potential in higher education, but mental ill-health remains a significant barrier for too many. We also know that the impact of poor mental health and the barriers to accessing support are related to a number of factors, including the diverse backgrounds that students come from. This funding competition is designed to spark innovative and targeted solutions, and to help ensure the best possible outcomes for all students. Given the huge challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic and its differential impact on different communities, the development of effective, long-term and intersectional approaches to mental health is more important than ever."

Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries, said: 

"Many students will be facing additional challenges due to the disruption and uncertainty caused by this global pandemic and it is vital we do all we can to support their wellbeing and help those who live with mental health conditions.

"This funding competition is an excellent way to explore innovative solutions to ensure mental ill-health is not a barrier to success."

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