Figures show black students with mental health conditions are more likely to drop out of university and achieve poorer grades

New statistics released by the Office for Students (OfS) have revealed a large gap between black university students with mental health conditions in attainment and continuation rates compared to white students with mental health conditions.

The numbers also show black students struggling with their mental health are less likely to get a graduate-level job following university.

According to the report, 53% of those in this group achieved a first or 2:1 degree in 2017-18, compared to 77% of all students with mental health conditions. In 2016-17 it was found that 77% of black students with mental health problems continued to the second year of their degree, compared to 87% of all students with mental health problems.

Towards the start of this year we reported that mental health issues at university were up by 70% after figures obtained by The Times revealed a 73% increase between 2014-15 and 2017-18 in freshers stating that they had a condition like anxiety or depression before starting their course.

Unsurprisingly, universities have been criticised for not providing enough support for students and also for not doing enough to increase diversity on campus.

Discussing the difference between black students and white students, the OfS report states, “These gaps show that black students with mental health conditions are being failed throughout the student cycle.

“The poorer outcomes of these students suggest that the overlap of multiple identities can have a drastic effect on students’ experience at university.”

Suggesting that decolonising the curriculum could help close the attainment gap, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, Kehinde Andrews, says students regularly report that being taught Eurocentric knowledge is not only alienating, but damaging too, “because it’s telling you you cannot think.”

Professor Andrews wants sector leaders to show students that there are other ways to think and different sources of knowledge.

The report from OfS asks universities to acknowledge the different experiences held by students with mental health conditions and to provide “tailored support to close these gaps”. Chief executive of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge highlights that mental health concerns should not be a barrier to success, but for many it is affecting their ability to succeed.

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.”

A spokesperson from Universities UK commented to say: “Mental health is a priority for university leaders. UUK’s StepChange provides the framework to implement a whole organisation approach to enable all students and staff to thrive and to ensure that those who need it get access to appropriate support.

“We recognise that students have different rates and experiences of mental health problems and encourage our members to work closely with diverse student voices to provide access to student support services that are culturally appropriate, including working with the NHS.

“UUK has asked universities to take action to close the BAME student attainment gap and we have provided specific recommendations on how to ensure BAME students are given the best chance of success – including asking institutions to enhance their efforts to develop racially diverse and inclusive environments to promote a sense of belonging.”

In September Mind and Goldman Sachs announced a £1.5 million partnership to provide mental health support in 10 participating universities. These universities were chosen based on factors including need, diversity, and delivery track record.

Here’s hoping more of the right support can reach all universities soon.