Colleges fail to win any OfS mental health funding

All three college bids for a £6 million fund to help reduce student mental health problems have been rejected.

Instead, ten universities have been chosen to share the cash on offer from the Office for Students, along with co-funding of £8.5 million to develop “innovative” projects.

The call was open to both universities and colleges, and a total of 48 submissions were made.

The OfS wouldn’t name the unsuccessful colleges, but pointed out that, of the successful projects, two include FE colleges as partners.

They are Keele University, which will work with Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group and Stoke on Trent College; and Lincoln University, partnered with Lincoln College.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said he was “disappointed that this investment does not seem to have reached many colleges”.

“But,” he added, “I am not surprised, because the funding was only for higher education, which is an important but not major part of college provision.

“I’m pleased that some colleges are part of winning projects and I expect them to play a formative part in those partnerships, sharing their good practice with universities.”

According to the AoC, one in five young people aged 16 to 24 experience a common mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, every year; and 75 per cent of adults with a diagnosable mental health problem experience their first symptoms before the age of 24.

The proportion of full-time UK undergraduate students reporting mental health concerns when they enter higher education has more than doubled over the past five years, the OfS said.

Hughes said student mental health is a “big priority for colleges” and has had “welcome coverage in recent times”.

His association launched a mental health charter last month to challenge mental health stigma, and 24 colleges have “enthusiastically” signed it so far.

The OfS’s competition was aimed at generating new approaches which could be used across higher education. Focuses include new forms of mental health awareness training to staff and students, and developing an integrated approach between university- and collegelevel support services.

Denise Brown, principal at Stoke on Trent College, told FE Week that via the project they are working on with Keele University, “we aim to improve support and opportunities through the college to university transition, working collaboratively with local colleges, universities, NHS partners and the local authority to develop a multi-agency ‘transitions toolkit’”.

“Our commitment to this project includes creating a provision for staff training and education programmes that aim to increase awareness of mental health issues and their impact,” she added.

“We are looking forward to dedicating staff time to help develop this transitional toolkit and delivering essential training targeted specifically at benefiting young Colleges fail to win any OfS mental health funding people in our community.”

The eight other universities that will share the £6 million funding are: Newcastle, University of Derby, University of the West of England, Northumbria University, University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, University of Birmingham and University of Sussex.

Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “I am pleased the Office for Students is driving forward action on this vital priority, and these innovative projects will help to improve mental health support by allowing institutions to find what really works to help those students in need.”