Oxford SU Leads Call for Action on Student Mental Health with New Policy Aims

Oxford SU’s Sabbatical Officers have launched a bold campaign to tackle student mental health which has been approved by Student Council. 

The policy commits the SU to call for key changes to University governance that it is hoped will spotlight issues of student mental health at all levels. The policy mandates the Student Union to lobby the University for a new mental health committee, a common framework for mental health across the colleges and the establishment of a Pro vice-chancellor for student experience and wellbeing.  

It also calls on the University to continue the expanded funding for the counselling service and to complete and publish a review of student wellbeing. It is hoped that this review will ‘consider the fundamental changes that could be made to the Oxford student experience to promote good mental health and wellbeing, for example academic workload, the addition of reading weeks, and the diversification of teaching and assessment.’  

Oxford SU’s Sabbatical Officers are hoping the University will seize the opportunity to become a national leader in supporting student mental health by signing up to the new Student Mental Health Charter developed by the charity Student Minds.  

The policy commitment from the SU follows Oxford SU’s work earlier this year in playing a key role to establish the University student Mental Health Taskforce, chaired by Sir Tim Hitchens, president of Wolfson College. The taskforce reviewed immediate covid mental health needs as well as the longer term provision of mental health support across the colleges. The taskforce delivered a number of changes including improved wellbeing support over vacations and an additional £400,000 funding boost for the University Counselling and Support Services.  

The sabbatical officers are hopeful that the collegiate University will take steps to act on these policy asks alongside The Mental Health Taskforce report and its recommendations which have been considered by University and Conference of Colleges committees this term. It is understood that work is underway to start implementation of the recommendations, including the establishment of a new joint Committee for Student Mental Health. The new committee will provide a dedicated forum to discuss student mental health issues and make it easier to make institutional level changes. 

It is hoped the new policy will continue Oxford SU’s partnership working with the University following the SU’s collaboration on the University’s strategy for student wellbeing and mental health in 2019. 

Amelia Holt, VP Welfare and Equal Opportunities said: ‘I am pleased that our plans for the next steps of our campaign to improve student mental health at Oxford has been approved by Student Council. It is clear that students are finding things incredibly tough and these institutional governance changes we’re calling for will make it easier for student concern to be voiced and acted on.’ 

‘It has been brilliant to work with staff and students from across the University on the Mental Health Taskforce which made clear the challenge the University faces and we are today leading calls to ensure the University acts on its recommendations. We look forward to passing on this work to our successors who start at the end of June 2021 and engaging with the collegiate University on these important issues.’  

Nationally there is a student mental health crisis. According to NUS, 56% of students say that their mental health has worsened since before the coronavirus pandemic. Over two thirds (74%) of 18-24 year olds say lockdown has made their mental health worse, compared with 60% of adults. (Mind, 2020) Over 4 in 5 (82%) of young people had a lower than average wellbeing score. 

In Oxford, since March 2020 the University’s counselling service has experienced an average of 15% increased demand on 2019 levels whilst demand for the University counselling service increased by 100% on 2019 levels during July and August 2020. 

The SU Sabbatical Officer teams have focussed on mental health for several years including through the launch of the SU’s Mind Your Head campaign and have led national conversations around mental health. 

Alex Foley, VP Women has written a blog outlining in more depth Oxford SU’s campaigning work to tackle student mental health this year. Read the blog here

Read the sabbatical officers’ earlier update on the mental health taskforce here