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Mental health conditions cause equality gaps in higher education, report finds

A new report by the Office for Students (OfS) has been released on how mental health conditions compound equality gaps in higher education.

The report has found that students who have a mental health condition are more likely to drop out of university before completing their studies, less likely to progress into skilled work or further study and to achieve a first or 2.1, compared to students without a mental health condition, the OfS report has shown.

The Insight brief ‘Mental health: Are all students being properly supported?’, highlights the inequalities among university students, between those who have a mental health condition and those without. Other factors such as ethnicity, sexuality and socioeconomic circumstances also impact students’ outcomes in higher education.

The OfS report shows that in 2016/17, 87% of students with declared mental health conditions continued their studies after their first year, compared to 90% of all undergraduates.

In 2017/18, graduates who had reported a mental health condition were less likely to be awarded a first or 2.1.

69% of students who graduated in 2016/17 with a mental health condition progressed into work or further study, compared to 73% of all undergraduates.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “Having a mental health condition should not be a barrier to success in higher education. But for too many students it is seriously impacting their ability to succeed academically, thrive socially, and progress into fulfilling careers.”

“Mental health and wellbeing are complex issues and there is no simple solution. There is already a lot of good work being done to support student welfare but, as this data highlights, there is a need for that work to take account of how mental health issues relate to other characteristics,” she added.

The Insight brief outlines methods for improving mental health among students: “The OfS is helping to ensure universities and colleges are places which promote a safe, healthy and inclusive experience.

“In 2019, through the OfS Challenge Competition, we funded 10 large-scale projects to achieve a step change in mental health outcomes. These projects cover a variety of innovative approaches to facilitating better mental health and wellbeing for students.”

The number of students reporting a mental health condition in England has more than doubled in the last five years, from 1.4% in 2012/13 to 3.5% in 2017/18. Recent data from Advance HE also found that 72% of UK undergraduates disclosing that they have mental health issues in 2017/18 are female, up from 68% in 2013/14.


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