Supporting students’ mental health is a team effort

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Hundreds of thousands of young people start new chapters in their lives when they arrive at university this week.

This is an important time of great change for them, with most leaving home, family, friends and social networks behind to come to university. Universities have a crucial role in making the time they spend with us fulfilling and rewarding.

Given the numbers of students who come to university, it should not be surprising to anyone that demand for support for mental health conditions is increasing.

This is generating increased public attention and is the backdrop against which Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has challenged the sector to do more to address the issue. The launch of a mental health charter to improve standards of support is part of the government’s response to this.

This is welcome, because it’s an issue that universities need to respond to. But it is also not something that universities or any part of the system that has contact with students can address alone.

Supporting students

Looking at what’s happening at universities vividly illustrates the extent of the activity taking place across the country.  More than 200 initiatives are on offer at UWE Bristol alone. This ranges from providing information to students when they first arrive, to creating places for them to access support and shaping a supportive culture that gives them the confidence to raise issues with others. We are also investing in new ways to use data to better understand how students engage in life on campus.

One of the most pressing issues this work has highlighted is the need to bring organisations together to provide a network of support for undergraduates.  In many cases, when students leave home they will also be leaving therapeutic support networks that they are used to – from young people’s mental health services to a new GP.

This places universities like ours in a position of providing support and direction to students, often without a full understanding of their history. It’s a major challenge, and we need to work with the NHS and partners to bridge these gaps.

Listening to students

In the face of this complexity, it is inspiring to hear the views of students themselves, who are best able to convey an understanding of what is needed. Those who have joined discussions with us support the improvements we are making and have been clear about the issues they face.

They have ambitions, but are disproportionately affected by the cost of housing, the jobs market, the environment and our future in Europe. Many are understandably unhappy at being termed ‘snowflakes’ when they speak about their concerns.

Given these changing pressures, it is clear that the way we support their mental health and wellbeing must adapt change too and that is what many universities are looking to deliver.

As we welcome thousands of new students leaving home for the first time, in scenes that will be replicated across the country, we appreciate that their mental health will be seen as everyone’s responsibility.

Tackling an issue as complex will not be achieved by a single measure or statement. It must be seen a team effort.  If we’re able to work together and listen to students, we stand a better chance of success.

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post website on 21 September 2018.

The Entrepreneurial University

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Excellent inaugural lecture last night by UWE Bristol’s Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who I am very pleased to welcome to the University.

Dylan explored questions such as what it means to be an entrepreneurial university, what are the main barriers and how can we do more to nurture the enterprising and entrepreneurial graduates that are critical to our country’s economic growth and social development.

With the majority of new jobs being created by companies under five years old, we can see why this is so important. But this isn’t just about creating entrepreneurs – it is much bigger than that. It is about nurturing an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’. We know that graduates are entering a rapidly changing world, where technologies beyond our current imagination, are creating jobs that we have not even thought of yet. In this environment, all graduates will need to demonstrate the enterprising attributes that Dylan spoke of – such as being action-oriented, persistent, self-determined and agile.

This is a key part of UWE Bristol’s Strategy 2020 and what it means to be a UWE Bristol graduate. Making this the lived experience for all our students is a major priority for this University.

I look forward to working with Dylan, colleagues across the University, businesses and organisations as we really drive the enterprise agenda forward, from what is a very strong base. Our innovation networks have already supported over 700 SMEs, the Graduate Talent West portal provides access to our 6,000 graduates each year (led by UWE Bristol with Business West, the LEP and other universities in the region), we run one of the largest paid internship programmes in the country, and 47% of our expenditure is with SMEs (above the government’s target of 25% for the public sector).

As Dylan stressed, this isn’t about universities working on their own. It is about universities working with businesses, local and regional organisations, and policy makers to create the experiences and rich environments where ideas and innovations can flourish.

Today, I am very pleased to say we have moved a major step further, winning funding to set up one of four ‘University Enterprise Zones’ to be supported by BIS, providing a business ‘hatchery’, incubation and grow on space for businesses specialised in robotics, biosciences, biomedicine and other high tech areas. The Zone is expected to generate over 500 new jobs, and more than £50m for the local economy.  It has been developed in collaboration with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Bristol with strong support from South Gloucestershire Council, the University of Bath and the West of England Academic Heath Science Network. 

The world we are living in is changing a pace. Collaboration, enterprise and an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ are essential – and right at the forefront of our thinking at UWE Bristol.

Strategy 2020 – one year on

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One year on from the launch of our Strategy 2020 and this week I have been out at each of our main campuses discussing the strong progress we have made, our external challenges and opportunities, and our priorities for the next year and beyond.

It was great to reflect with colleagues on our new UWE film, the experiences of our students, and how excited, confident and proud our students are of this University and the opportunities and inspirational environment our colleagues create.

I continue to be impressed by the passion, commitment and innovations of colleagues across the University, supporting our collective ambitions and challenging us and each other to really driving these forward. Our colleagues and students give me huge confidence in the future. UWE Bristol is a great place to work and learn, we have had a very successful academic year and we are investing confidently in our people, estate and infrastructure.