Universities are being urged to sign up for a prospective charter calling on them to meet key mental health standards

An opt-in system, the University Mental Health Charter would effectively allow higher education establishments to show prospective students and their families they are capable of meeting eight new mental health criteria. These would include early intervention, staff training and promotion of healthy behaviour.

Student Minds, a mental health charity, has been leading calls for the charter. They previously revealed roughly a third of students report psychological distress, citing experiences of “academic, social and financial pressures.”

The charity will now lead a partnership of organisations, all seeking reform in student and staff wellbeing. Partners will include the UPP Foundation, independent higher education regulator Office for Students, National Union of Students and Universities UK.

The charter’s development phase is being bankrolled by a £100,000 grant handed to Student Minds from the UPP Foundation, founded by the University Partnerships Programme. Rosie Tressler, Student Minds’ CEO, believes the charter could "transform the lives" of the 2.3 million students currently in higher education.

She said: “There is much work to be done to ensure that institutions make mental health a strategic priority, supporting the 1 in 4 students and staff experiencing mental ill health and the 4 in 4 with mental health, at universities across the UK."

Tressler went on to say: “Student Minds are delighted to have the support of the UPP Foundation and our partners to co-create the University Mental Health Charter with students, and university and health communities. This programme will stretch and reward universities that commit to the improvement required, providing tools and support to help them get there.

“Together we will transform the futures of students in Higher Education, whilst equipping the doctors, teachers and business leaders of the future to continue the positive change in wider society.”

At a student mental health summit in Bristol this week, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah called on universities to sign up to “avoid failing a generation of students”.

He said: “We want mental health support for students to be a top priority for the leadership of all our universities. Progress can only be achieved with their support – I expect them to get behind this important agenda as we otherwise risk failing an entire generation of students.

“Universities should see themselves as ‘in loco parentis’ – not infantilising students, but making sure support is available where required. It is not good enough to suggest that university is about the training of the mind and nothing else, as it is too easy for students to fall between the cracks and to feel overwhelmed and unknown in their new surroundings."

He continued: "This is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but we need to do a better job of supporting students than is happening at the moment.”

In another key development Mr. Gyimah has also revealed parents could be notified if their child is experiencing mental ill-health at university.

The government is exploring a further opt-in scheme, where pupils would be asked in their Freshers Week if their university can have permission to share information on their mental health with their parents or a trusted person.

The Tory minister has also announced the creation of a working group exploring the transition students face when going to university, particularly in the critical first year of their studies.

If you or somebody you know struggling with their mental health in higher education, visit Counselling Directory to talk to an accredited mental health professional near to you.