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Funding boost to research student mental health

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An Open University (OU) led project that researches positive practices to support student mental health has just received funding.

The Positive digital practices: a holistic approach to wellbeing for part-time, commuter and distance learning students project, led by Kate Lister, OU Lecturer in Education Studies, is one of 18 projects across universities and colleges in England to receive funding to support student mental health in a £6 million programme, the Office for Students (OfS) announced today (Tuesday 17 August).

The two-year project, conducted with the University of Bradford, the University of Warwick, Student Minds, Jisc and the University Mental Health Advisory Network, will work in partnership with students, HEIs and sector bodies to develop initiatives in three areas:

  • Positive learner identities: includes emotional awareness, encouraging support seeking behaviour, recognising achievements and valuing learning opportunities
  • Positive digital communities: support students’ sense of belonging and purpose, provides informal peer support and facilitate meaningful connections that do not rely on a campus environment
  • Positive pedagogies, that support learners to take part in and demonstrate technology-enhanced learning in a way that is inclusive and supports mental wellbeing

OU leading on Widening Participation

The OU will lead on the Positive learner identities work area, and on distance learning students as a group, with a targeted intersectional focus on Widening Participation students.

Kate Lister said: "Our project will scale up, embed and sustain positive practices that proactively consider mental wellbeing in learning for part-time, commuter and distance learning students. In partnership with students, we will co-create resources and initiatives to scale up positive practices in these areas, embed them across the three HEIs, and pilot them more broadly in higher education.”

Giving students “the best chance possible to succeed”

All of the projects funded by OfS are designed to deliver improved support in the short term, as well as provide sustainable developments to support good practice across the entirety of the sector.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “Having a mental health condition should not be a barrier to success in higher education, but for many students this is still the case. Data shows that students reporting a mental health condition are more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1, and progress into skilled work or further study – compared to students without a declared condition. We also know that students come to university or college from a range of backgrounds and that their individual journey, and the kind of support they require, is likely to be influenced by their specific circumstances.

“That’s why this funding of targeted interventions for student mental health is so important. By paying attention to the diverse needs of students; universities and colleges can fine-tune the support they offer and ensure that all students, regardless of where they are from, have the best chance possible to succeed.

“Working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, we are pleased to be able to fund projects across a range universities and colleges targeting a number of priority groups. We look forward to working with these projects to develop and evaluate innovative and collaborative approaches to targeted support for student mental health, and to support the take-up of this learning for the benefit of students in all parts of the sector.”

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