The University Mental Health Charter FAQs
What is a Charter?
In this context, a Charter is a document outlining a set of principles that universities can commit to working towards in improving the mental health and wellbeing of their communities.
The Charter Award Scheme is a voluntary improvement and award programme, which will assess universities against the principles in the Charter, reward those with exceptional approaches to mental health and support ongoing improvement.
Why is Student Minds developing the Charter? And why now?
There has been great political, public and professional concern in recent years about student mental health. The mental wellbeing reported by university students is among the lowest across the population and the sector has seen a dramatic rise in help-seeking, with some institutions reporting that one in four of their students are either being seen or are waiting to be seen by the university counselling service (IPPR, 2017). Whilst further research is required, experts have connected this to a range of academic, social and financial pressures. Mental health is a critical factor in student and staff retention and success. Universities, as a community setting, present an opportunity to change people's health outcomes for life. As well as responding to illness, we need to promote and improve the mental health and wellbeing of all members of the university community.
Student Minds have been working to improve the mental health and wellbeing of students and university communities since 2008. Since our beginnings as a charity focused on student-led projects, we’ve broadened our focus into wider areas of mental health and wellbeing and now work with over 120 universities across the UK, supported by our national research, policy and campaigning work. We have undertaken a range of research projects to support the role of various groups: student accommodation, university sport, academics, schools and graduate employers.
In 2017, Student Minds took part in the Universities UK led programme to develop a strategic framework, #StepChange, aiming to encourage more universities to take a 'whole-university approach' to student wellbeing. With the support of Student Minds and UUK, a pilot implementation programme (funded by The OFS) is now reviewing this framework and the process of developing a university-wide mental health strategy at Cardiff, York and UWE.
We are much encouraged by the progress being made on this issue over the last decade. The Charter will be an important tool to support cultural change in universities, improve wellbeing outcomes for students, university staff and their local communities and ensure mental health does not fall off the HE policy agenda.
How will the Charter create change?
The Charter aims to support positive change by providing a reference point for staff and students to understand what good practice looks like in improving mental health and wellbeing, whilst being broad enough to allow universities to respond to the needs of their local context.
The Charter Award Scheme will support universities to reflect on current practice and highlight opportunities for enhancement. It offers the incentive universities need to go beyond baseline requirements and invest time and resources into driving ongoing improvement and developing good practice. It also provides a mechanism for identifying and disseminating examples of effective practice to facilitate sector-wide learning.
We recognise that universities are complex organisations and that genuine cultural change often emerges as the result of multiple influencing factors with unpredictable effects, as opposed to being determined by a single, top-down intervention. Change can be embedded when people have the space to collaborate, share ideas and innovate; conditions which the Charter encourages through both its principles and the Award Scheme.
Who is the Charter for and who is responsible for implementing the Charter?
The University Mental Health Charter is for anyone in higher education who wants to create positive change in mental health at university. It advocates for a whole-university approach to mental health, which means that universities must promote the mental health of both staff and students if it is to create real, sustained change. It also means that implementing the Charter needs a university-wide effort. Each member of the university has a role to play in responding to mental illness and promoting a mentally healthy university environment.The Charter Award Scheme will be an institutional-level programme that will assess how the university as a whole is progressing against the principles of good practice within the Charter.
Whereas much of the work to achieve a whole-university approach will be undertaken by a wide range of actors, university leadership is key in creating a shared vision, supporting cohesion and collaboration across the university, clarifying roles and responsibilities and ensuring everyone has a say in developing an approach. Universities UK’s Mentally Healthy Universities (formally StepChange) will give more guidance on the role of university leaders in this space.
Who is funding the Charter and what will be the costs involved?
Start-up funding for the project has been supported by a £100,000 grant to Student Minds from the UPP Foundation, the registered charity founded by University Partnerships Programme (UPP). An additional £50,000 grant was awarded to Student Minds from the Office for Students (OfS) to support research and consultation with the sector and enhanced student engagement in the development of the Charter.
Beyond these generous development grants, Student Minds will be welcoming additional partners and funders in order to scale the programme.
Like many charities, Student Minds is supported by a range of donations, fundraising and grants, and we generate our own funding through training delivery. For a full list of our funders visit here.
There will be a small administrative cost to institutions for taking part in the Charter Award Scheme, which will be set following consultation with the sector and which will be invested back into the Charter’s support and assessment process.
Is the Charter compulsory or regulatory?
The University Mental Health Charter is a voluntary scheme. It is not legally binding and participating in the Award Scheme is not a requirement of any regulatory authority.
The Charter outlines how, in developing safe and effective approaches to mental health, universities must base policy and interventions on careful assessment of local need and risk, ensuring they are appropriately resourced, monitored and led by qualified staff. A voluntary scheme enables universities to develop their approaches with appropriate caution and implement thorough quality and risk management practices.
The Charter differs from regulatory approaches as, though it does aim to reduce mental illness and raise baseline standards in care, this is not its sole purpose. The Award Scheme aims to create environments that promote the mental health and wellbeing of the whole university community, encouraging innovation and the development of excellent practice. It is not based on targets or box ticking, but challenges universities to continually improve.
How is the Charter linked with other frameworks and projects around mental health in higher education, such as UUK’s StepChange?
The Charter will have the most value by being embedded within the wider change programme.
The Charter consultation has supported the development of UUK’s Mentally Healthy Universities, the revised StepChange framework, due to be launched in early 2020. The Charter’s themes map onto the four domains and five enablers within Mentally Healthy Universities, which provides a strategic framework to support university leaders in achieving a whole-university approach.
The Charter will continue to draw on the experiences of key developments in the sector, now and in the future. This will include the work of SMaRTen, the innovations that emerge from the recent OfS Challenge Competition, the Catalyst projects on PGR Student Mental Health and the evidence collected by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
Is the Charter relevant to my higher education provider?
The University Mental Health Charter was developed with staff and students from a diverse range of providers. As it is based on principles, and is non-prescriptive, much of the Charter will have relevance across a range of provider types and contexts.
However, as the Charter consultation and pilot focused on degree-awarding bodies, the Charter Award Scheme will only be open for applications from degree-awarding providers. We recognise that other types of provider, such as further education colleges and alternative providers, have a unique context and challenges. We will be exploring the possibility of piloting an adapted Charter Award process for other higher education providers in the future.
What will the Award Scheme involve?
The Charter Award Scheme will be a voluntary scheme that will assess universities progress against the principles of good practice within the Charter, support participating universities to identify opportunities for improvement, recognise and reward excellent practice and use the findings to support ongoing improvement across the sector.
Throughout 2020, we are exploring the best methods to effectively achieve these aims, in partnership with staff, students and sector experts. In the new year, we will be looking for 3 universities to pilot the Charter Award Scheme. Subscribe to the Charter mailing list to be the first to hear when we are accepting expressions of interest.
I am a student or staff member, how can I find out more about getting involved?
Throughout 2020, we will be providing more opportunities for staff and students to find out more about the Charter and what it means for them. We will also be looking for students and staff to volunteer to help us develop the Charter Award Scheme. To find out more, visit our What’s Next page and keep up to date with opportunities by subscribing to the Charter mailing list.
What is the evidence underpinning the Charter?
In 2019, we undertook a large-scale research and consultation process. We collected qualitative and quantitative data from a wide range of staff and students, with full ethical oversight from Derby University ethics committee. Alongside this, we undertook a thorough literature review. A team of experienced researchers helped to collect and analyse the data, and they will be publishing their findings in academic journals in 2020.
Which individuals and organisations have been involved in developing the Charter?
The Charter is being developed in partnership with Universities UK, National Union of Students, the Office for Students and AMOSSHE and supported by key our stakeholders in DfE. We are also extremely grateful to the UPP Foundation and the Office for Students, for providing funding for the Charter and supporting the ongoing governance of the project.
We have a number of research partners, including the University of Derby, King’s College London and the Smarten Network, and a team of experienced researchers from universities across the UK have kindly volunteered to support the research process.
In March 2019, we travelled to university campuses across the UK, bringing together students, students’ unions, university staff and senior leaders as part of the University Mental Health Charter road trip. We spoke to 360 students and staff from around 181 diverse universities and organisations in all four countries, and an incredible 2274 staff and students shared their thoughts and ideas in our online surveys. You can read about the road trip and online surveys here.
We hosted additional focus groups to talk to male students and black students, and brought together a range of individuals and organisations with experience and expertise to refine our thinking around key topics and peer review the Charter. These included UKCISA, AdvanceHE and Unite Students.
We are grateful to those universities and student unions who hosted consultation events, including Staffordshire University, University of Strathclyde, Leeds University and Leeds University Union, University of the Arts London, Ulster University, Cardiff University, Cardiff University SU, Nottingham Trent University, King's College London SU and Westminster SU.
We intend to pilot the Award Scheme in 2020 at the University of Derby and three more universities. Subscribe to the Charter mailing list to be the first to hear about further opportunities to get involved.
Will the Charter be reviewed and updated?
Future work will ensure that the Charter will be iterative, meaning it will be reviewed and refreshed as new evidence emerges. There will be a minor review each year and a major review every 3-5 years, depending on need.
We are always happy to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please contact Charter@studentminds.org.uk.
What about the responsibilities of the NHS and Schools?
At Student Minds we understand that mental health is an issue that expands far beyond universities and that partnership working with schools and colleges, the NHS, graduate employers and others is crucial. Whilst this Charter is focused on university settings, alongside this work, Student Minds’ strategy and our partners programming involves working on national, systems level work to improve NHS provision for students, and projects to bridge transitions between life stages. We will ensure strong connectivity with these other programmes for a long term strategic approach.