Black students with mental health conditions ‘being failed by system’

Black students with mental health conditions are being “failed” by a system which leads to many dropping out, or graduating with a lower class of degree, the universities regulator has warned.

These students are also significantly less likely to get a graduate-level job, according to the Office for Students (OfS), which said institutions need to “pay heed” to the different experiences of students with mental health issues.

New figures published by the regulator also show that female undergraduates are more than twice as likely to report that they have a mental health condition as their male counterparts.

OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge (pictured) said that while having a mental health condition should not be a “barrier to success” in higher education, for many students it is “seriously impacting their ability to succeed”.

The warnings come at a time when there has been a growing spotlight on student mental health and well-being.

The OfS report shows that, in 2017/18, 53% of black students with a declared mental health condition graduated with a first or 2.1, compared with more than three-quarters (77%) of all students reporting a mental health condition.

And three in four (77%) of black students with mental health conditions continued with their degree after the first year, 10 percentage points less than all students with mental health issues (87%).

“These gaps show that black students with mental health conditions are being failed throughout the student cycle,” the report says. “Barely three-quarters remain in study beyond their first year; of those who reach their final year barely half get a 1st or a 2:1; and they are less likely to go on to a graduate job or further study.

“Universities and colleges need to pay heed to the different experiences of students with mental health conditions and put in place tailored support to close these gaps.”

The figures also show that, in 2017/18, 4.7% of female undergraduates reported that they had a mental health condition, compared with 2% of men.

Previous figures have shown that, overall, the proportion of UK full-time students at English universities and colleges reporting a mental health condition has risen to 3.5% in 2017/18 from 1.4% in 2012/13.

This figure is likely to be under-estimated for a number of reasons, the OfS said, such as a stigma remaining around mental health and concerns about discrimination.

Ms Dandridge 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 well-being 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.

“Universities and colleges, by working in collaboration with other partners such as the NHS and charities, have the power to address these complexities, for instance by involving students in developing solutions, and by ensuring that the support they offer is coherent within the institution and is tailored to students’ needs.”

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