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The parents of Harry Armstrong Evans, a 21-year-old student from Cornwall who took his own life in June of 2021, are today launching a bid to encourage the Government to adopt a new piece of legislation making it a requirement for universities to publish annually, their student suicide rates.

The call for action comes ahead of the result of a Coroner’s inquest this Friday 7th October, into the death of their son; a third-year student of Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Exeter.

Harry’s father Rupert, 72, and mother Alice, 63 had been in touch with the university following their son’s efforts to reach out to his tutor following an anomalously low grade that had scuppered his chances of further post-graduate study.

Delays from Exeter University in responding to both Harry’s cries for help and that of his mother brought about a state of “anguish and despair” in Harry, his father said, that in his opinion, contributed significantly, if not entirely, to his son’s decision to end his life.

In 2017 another student, Joel Rees, took his own life owing to the pressure of coursework and exams on the same Physics and Astrophysics course at Exeter University.

Last week, the university admitted that 11 students, that they knew of, had taken their lives in the last six years.

Alice Armstrong Evans said

“When we were looking at university options, Harry purposefully chose somewhere close to home.

She continued: “He was quite shy, but the university proudly publicised great wellbeing services and pastoral support. Nowhere did we read about the number of students who had taken their own life or indeed that, just a year prior, someone on the same course Harry had selected, had committed suicide. Had we known just how much of a problem Exeter University had, then there is no way we would have agreed to let Harry study there.”  

Currently, there is no mechanism by which coroners courts must report the suicide of an enrolled student to a university and so there is no way for universities to officially record their student suicide rate and therefore no requirement to annually publish these statistics.

Under Armstrong Evans’ proposed legislation, those universities whose levels of suicide exceed that of the national average – as defined by the Office of National Statistics – could be investigated by the Department for Education and where necessary, placed into ‘special measures’.

Currently, universities are not bound by any duty of care, in the same way, schools or employers might be. Under one of the requirements of ‘Harry’s Law’, higher education institutions would be required to provide a duty of care.

The coroner’s inquest, which begins on Thursday 6th October and is due to conclude on Friday 7th at the Cornwall coroner’s court in Truro, will take evidence from both the Armstrong Evans family and from representatives of Exeter University.

Speaking ahead of the inquest, Rupert Armstrong Evans said: 

“We have written to our local MP, Scott Mann, and asked him to make representations on our behalf to the relevant ministers encouraging them prioritise Harry’s Law ahead of next year’s A-Level results when many students and parents will be considering which higher education institution will best suit them.”

Harry’s Law

Calls on Government to…

  • Require coroners courts to inform higher education institutions when the suicide of an enrolled student is registered
  • Require universities to keep a record of student suicides
  • Require universities to publish annually on their website student suicide rates and which faculty the student(s) belonged to.
  • Insist that the Department for Education be given powers to be able to investigate, intervene and place universities into ‘special measures’ where a specific institution’s suicide rate exceeds that of the national average as outlined by the Office of National Statistics in the year prior
  • Legislate that universities do provide a ‘duty of care’ to all undergraduate students
  • Make it mandatory for all personal and academic tutors at higher education institutions to carry out and record their attendance at mental health awareness training.

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