Welcome to Higher Education Spotlight – a quarterly newsletter designed to support colleagues working within the Higher Education Sector. In each edition we will place the spotlight on particular issues impacting Higher Education, with an article from one of our specialist Higher Education lawyers.

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Student Health and Welfare – the old and new

There are approximately 2.3 million undergraduates and 600,000 postgraduates studying in the UK.  900,000 of these students are 20 and under. We know as a society that the onset of mental health difficulties often develops by the mid-twenties so it is fair to say that young adults are vulnerable to developing such difficulties.

For many moving away from home to commence higher education does represent one of the biggest transitions for a young adult. Approximately 485,000 students also come from outside the UK and may in addition face cultural and linguistic barriers. 

A number of young people also come into higher education with pre-existing health problems or disability across a spectrum. Some have faced social challenges or have been parented by the State as children and come into higher education as a “looked after child”.

Exposed to a new environment; becoming independent and experiencing academic pressures and other stressors connected to the higher education experience, brings some students to high levels of risk. This can include suicidality. These factors existed before the pandemic and as factors should not be lost in the pandemic response.

While much has been written around the specific impact of the Covid 19 pandemic upon the health and wellbeing of students, what the pandemic has also amplified and exposed is these pre-existing challenges for students around welfare and mental health. This has now been heavily compounded by the uncertainties wreaked by the pandemic; virtual learning; restricted face to face health care; isolation and poor experiences of support. Higher Education institutions themselves have grappled with the dramatic adaptations needed to maintain a reasonable level of operational function and service delivery during the pandemic.

The usual infrastructure of higher education and those with whom they partner such as the NHS to support students has been stretched to almost breaking point at times.  With a great deal of emphasis placed upon schools by the Government during the pandemic, higher education has needed to navigate the uncertainties that the pandemic has wreaked but with an equal duty of care toward the students in their care.

Before the pandemic, a Mental Health Challenge Competition (MHCC) was launched. This programme was developed by the Office for Students (OfS) to provide £6 million of funding to higher education providers to support the development and testing of interventions to improve mental health and wellbeing among students. The programme brought together 10 projects involving 25 higher education providers and over 35 external partners, including health care providers, local services, and mental health organisations.

Through the programme, the OfS highlighted the aim of achieving a ‘step change in mental health outcomes for all students’. The programme sought collaborative proposals that would bring together higher education providers with other organisations involved in student support, or who may benefit student support, in order to address issues around ‘connectivity’ and ‘complexity’ in support for student mental health. 

This initiative along with others, could not have predicted that higher education was going to be thrown into its greatest challenge ever with a pandemic. It is important however not to lose the work achieved by such initiatives before the pandemic in this area. These can be captured as a platform for the current challenges and those ahead. The higher education sector anticipates that the impact upon students of the last year will continue to impact for some considerable time yet. 

The other important message coming through is that one size does not fit all. A student with a learning disability may need a different approach to one who has mental health condition. The services providing pastoral care need to adapt and also provide around the clock support, rather than office core hours - as Student Unions express students often reach out for help outside those core hours.

The pandemic has usefully shown us that building closer partnerships and collaboration with the NHS healthcare system and voluntary sector to wrap around students in need is vital. Public health considerations are now becoming embedded in the higher education psyche.  This is abutting up against how higher education views wider health and safety considerations for student and staff.

When supporting students, staff need to be aware that the assessment, support and safeguarding provisions of the Care Act 2014 apply to young people as they do to all adults at risk and who may be vulnerable. Further, if students become acutely mentally unwell the provisions under the Mental Health Acts for care, or the Mental Capacity Act may apply to protect students if they become so unwell as to lose mental capacity to make decisions.

Early intervention and information sharing by those who have pastoral duties is vital to identify when a student is becoming unwell and proactively support the student to engage in help.  This requires confident and skilled staff. Lack of engagement of the student to seek or receive help should be viewed as heightening risk. A student who is very unwell mentally and without his protective network around him for advice can quickly lose insight into their condition and withdraw.

While the law around protecting sensitive information for students is there for good reason, parent after parent who has lost their child to suicide at University expresses that they did not know the severity of their child’s struggles and were not afforded the opportunity to support or work with others to help. This dynamic does invoke the attention of Coroners and the media alike.

There may a strong argument here for a generic disclaimer for students to sign on entry into higher education around sharing information in certain circumstances. In any event safeguarding life will provide exception and mitigation to any information sharing about the student with the next of kin as long as it is done thoughtfully and in a proportionate manner.

As lockdown ends and higher education strives to return to some form of normality (whatever normal is going to look like) the previous challenges of meeting the health and welfare needs of students will merge with the aftermath of the last year and pandemic.  There will need to be a new and deeper understanding for all higher education staff as to how this most important duty of care can be met not only operationally but also strategically.


For further information on how we can support on the above issues through training or advice please contact Deborah Jeremiah or Virginia Cooper.

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The Resource Library

Full HE resource library


Employment Eye: Focus on Higher Education - January 2021

Higher Education - Managing People in Challenging Times

The White Lion (Appellant) v James (Respondent) 2021 Court of Appeal - Occupiers' Liability Act and obvious risks

Funding to replace unsafe cladding, but it will not cover all costs - Extra £3.5 billion for the replacement of unsafe cladding in high-rise buildings

Drainage rights and developers - keep your head above the water!

Major reforms to mental health laws outlined in White Paper

Pensions Update: Another Step on the Journey

Brexit: What happens to the GDPR now that the Transition Period has ended?

What to expect from the Government’s review of EU employment rights

Forthcoming webinars & previous recordings

WEBINAR - Reforming the Mental Health Act: Have your say on the White Paper Consultation Questions
Thursday 18 March: 10.00 - 11.00

WEBINAR - A landscape of change: the future of the built environment
Tuesday 23 March 2021: 10.00 - 11.00

ON DEMAND - Immigration update for higher education employers

ON DEMAND - Mental Health Law Update

ON DEMAND - A landscape of change: Planning for the Future - planning policy changes in England and future reforms

ON DEMAND - Legal Review Series - Data Protection

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The news that matters


Teacher assessed grades for students
February 25, 2021
Students will receive grades awarded and determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught, the Education Secretary has announced.  See: consultation outcome, guidance and Direction issued to Ofqual.

Higher education providers: coronavirus (COVID-19)
Guidance | Updated February 24, 2021
Information on the return of students and NHS Test and Trace channels.

Higher education: operational guidance
Guidance | Updated February 22, 2021
This guidance builds on the previous guidance for reopening higher education (HE) campuses.  It will be updated further in line with developing scientific evidence.

Higher education: free speech and academic freedom
Policy paper | Updated February 17, 2021
Sets out proposals to strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education in England. See also the press release, Landmark proposals to strengthen free speech at universities.

Estimating the impact of EU exit on UK higher education
Research and analysis | February 8, 2021
Research looking at the effect of EU exit on higher education institutions in the UK.

Higher education student finance 2021 to 2022: equality analysis
Impact assessment | February 8, 2021
Analysis of how changes made to student finance regulations for the 2021 to 2022 academic year will affect specific protected groups.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) reporting in higher education providers
Transparency data | February 19, 2021
Statistics on known, confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in higher education as reported by providers.

Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth
Policy paper | January 21, 2020
This white paper outlines how the Government proposes to support people to develop the skills they need to get good jobs, including measures to give employers a greater say in the development of skills; provide higher level technical skills; provide a flexible, lifetime skills guarantee; simplify and reform funding and accountability for providers; support outstanding teaching.

Post-qualification admissions in higher education: proposed changes
Open consultation | January 21, 2021
The DfE is seeking views on proposed changes to the current system of higher education admissions to a system of PQA. This consultation follows the commitment from the government to level up the university admissions system.

Independent review of TEF: report
Research and analysis | January 21, 2021
Report to the Secretary of State for Education from the independent review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Consultation on how GCSE, AS and A level grades should be awarded in summer 2021
Closed consultation | January 15, 2021
The approach to awarding GCSE, AS and A level grades in 2021 following the cancellation of exams.

Letter from Michelle Donelan to higher education providers
Correspondence | December 30, 2020
A letter from Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Universities, to higher education providers about students' return in Spring 2021.

The higher education sector and the EU
Collection | Updated December 21, 2020
Information that higher education providers and students need to follow or may find useful, including areas where rules or processes have changed.

Student finance eligibility: 2021 to 2022 academic year
Policy paper | December 21, 2020
Information on who will be eligible for undergraduate, postgraduate and further education financial support from Student Finance England.

UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity 2018
Official Statistics | December 17, 2020
Statistics on the estimated revenue generated by education related exports and transnational education (TNE) activity in 2018.

Higher education restructuring regime guidance for applicants
Guidance | December 16, 2020
Details of the restructuring regime for higher education providers in England facing financial difficulties as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Participation Measures in Higher Education: 2006 to 2020
National statistics announcement | December 2, 2020
Participation rates in higher education between the academic years 2006 to 2007 and 2019 to 2020.


Higher education staff data UK: 2019 to 2020
February 25, 2021
Detailed open data tables about staff employed at higher education (HE) providers in the UK for the academic year 2019 to 2020.

Higher education performance indicators UK: non-continuation 2019 to 2020
Official Statistics | February 24, 2021
Provider-level statistics of higher education students not continuing into the 2019 to 2020 academic year.

Higher education performance indicators UK: widening participation 2019 to 2020
Official Statistics | February 11, 2021
Provider-level statistics on widening participation of under-represented groups in higher education for the 2019 to 2020 academic year.

Higher education student data UK: 2019 to 2020
Official Statistics | February 9, 2021
Detailed open data tables about students at HE providers in the United Kingdom (UK) for the academic year 2019 to 2020.

Higher education student statistics UK: 2019 to 2020
National Statistics | January 27, 2021
Details of student enrolments and qualifications obtained by higher education (HE) students at HE providers in the UK for the academic year 2019 to 2020.

Higher education staff statistics UK: 2019 to 2020
Official Statistics | January 19, 2021
Details of staff employed at higher education (HE) providers in the UK for the academic year 2019 to 2020.


TFC: COVID-19 in higher education settings, 10 February 2021
February 22, 2021
Paper by TFC providing an update on evidence related to COVID-19 in higher education (HE) settings. It draws upon data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Public Health England (PHE), and the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG UK) consortium. It was considered at SAGE 80 on February 11, 2021.

Isaac Newton Institute: COVID-19 and universities, 13 January 2021
February 22, 2021
Report from by the INI Higher Education Working Group on COVID-19 and universities. It was considered at SAGE 76 on January 14, 2021.  More details and an updated version of this analysis is available as a preprint on the Isaac Newton Institute website (PDF).

SPI-B: Return to campus for Spring term: risk of increased transmission from student migration, 13 January 2021
February 22, 2021
Paper by SPI-B that considers what is needed to encourage and support the uptake of testing, increasing health-protective behaviours, wider impacts on students and the social interactions of students and the wider community. It was considered at SAGE 76 on January 14, 2021.


Mature students in England
Research Briefing | February 24, 2021
This House of Commons briefing paper provides information and statistics on mature students, discusses the decline in mature student numbers and highlights policy issues affecting these students.

Coronavirus: HE/FE return to campus in England 2021
Research Briefing | February 23, 2021
This briefing paper discusses Covid-19 announcements affecting the HE an FE sectors in England from January 2021.  It outlines areas such as the return of students to campuses and refunds for students affected by the disruptions.

Support for disabled students in higher education in England
Research Briefing | February 22, 2021
The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing, but disabled students remain an underrepresented group and concerns have been expressed about the support provided for these students.

The Turing Scheme
Research Briefing | February 18, 2021
This briefing paper details what is known at present about the Turing Scheme, which will replace the Erasmus+ programme in providing funding to participants in universities, colleges, and schools to go on study and work placements across the world from September 2021.

International and EU students in higher education in the UK FAQs
Research Briefing | February 15, 2021
This House of Commons briefing paper answers some frequently asked questions about international and EU students in the UK. It sets out statistics in this area and outlines policy issues including the potential impact of Brexit and the net migration target on international and EU student recruitment.

Higher education student numbers
Research Briefing | January 29, 2021
Headline student numbers have increased to new records following a short dip after to the 2012 reforms. There are however ongoing concerns about numbers outside this group where trends have not been so positive, including part-time undergraduates, some postgraduates students, overseas students from some countries (especially Malaysia, Ireland, Cyprus and Germany) mature students and some disadvantaged groups. There is also considerable concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and student numbers, particularly those from overseas and uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on EU student numbers.

Higher education funding in England
Research Briefing | January 27, 2021
Higher education underwent fundamental changes to how it was financed in England 2012. There have been ongoing smaller changes since then and prospects for much larger changes following the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. How has this affected the balance between the broad sources of funding -the taxpayer and graduate and how has the total funding from all sources for universities changed?

Coronavirus: Student accommodation issues
Research Briefing | January 25, 2021
Compliance with coronavirus restrictions has meant many students have not been able to live in their term-time accommodation for significant periods and many have had a poorer experience at university than expected due to Covid-19 outbreaks and restrictions. This has led to students demanding rent refunds or discounts. How have universities, other accommodation providers and the Government responded to this?

Coronavirus: Financial impact on higher education
Research Briefing | January 15, 2021
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been concerns about the financial impact on universities. Much of this has focussed on the potential loss of international students, but there could also be losses in income from lower home student numbers, a drop in research work and less revenue from accommodation, catering and conferencing. What are the size of these impacts and what has the Government done to support the sector?

Support for students with mental health issues in higher education in England
Research Briefing | December 17, 2020
This House of Commons library briefing paper sets out data on the prevalence of mental health conditions in higher education students in England and outlines the action higher education providers, the government and the Office for Students are taking to help students with mental health issues. It also flags up how students can get support and looks at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.


Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future
February 25, 2021
Universities and colleges need to boost training and support for lecturers to realise long-term advantages of digital teaching and learning.

Clearer expectations on harassment for universities and colleges
February 9, 2021
The Office for Students (OfS) is re-launching its work to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education.

Office for Students distributes £50 million hardship funding
February 5, 2021
The Office for Students (OfS) has today written to universities and colleges with details of additional funding of £50 million to help address student hardship.

Latest lockdown should not lead to lost learning, says regulator
January 14, 2021
Universities should do all they can to deliver the teaching they have promised to students and alternative arrangements where this is not possible. This may include putting on extra lectures, repeating parts of the course, or fee refunds – the Office for Students (OfS) has said today.

New OfS analysis examines differences in higher education access and continuation between different groups of students
December 16, 2020
The Office for Students (OfS) has published a new analysis of differences on access and continuation rates in higher education between students from different ethnic groups.

Regulator sets out how students can register concerns
December 15, 2020
New guidance issued by the Office for Students (OfS) has outlined how we will continue to respond to students, staff at universities and members of the public who have concerns that a university may be breaching its registration conditions.

English higher education ‘in reasonable financial shape’ despite impact of pandemic
December 11, 2020
Finances at England’s universities and other higher education providers largely remain sound despite the early impact of the pandemic, new analysis from the Office for Students (OfS) has found. However, there is significant variation in the position of different providers.

Universities’ response to pandemic could see radical improvements in digital teaching, says OfS
December 3, 2020
Universities and colleges in England should take the opportunity to radically improve digital teaching and learning as they continue to negotiate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, in particular its exacerbating effect on digital poverty.


OIA publishes further case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19
Case summaries | March 2, 2021
The OIS has published a second set of case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of coronavirus.  The selection of summaries illustrates the OIA’s approach to different scenarios in the complaints it has seen so far, with most of the complaints relating to the 2019/20 academic year.  Topics include accommodation, the delivery of practical experiences (such as placements or laboratory work) and the cumulative effect of disruption caused by industrial action and the pandemic.

OIA publishes revised draft OIA Rules for Large Group Complaints for comment
Consultation | February 9, 2021
The Adjudicator has made some changes to the proposed Rules to address some of the concerns raised in first responses and added some explanatory notes to the consultation response.  Providers, student representative bodies, students, sector bodies and anyone else with an interest in the proposed process are now invited to respond with any outstanding or new concerns, or any further comments.  The deadline for comments is Friday 12 March 2021.

OIA publishes new guidance on requests for additional consideration
Guidance | December 14, 2020
The OIA has published a new section of the Good Practice Framework: Requests for additional consideration.  The section sets out some good practice guidance on requests for additional consideration (often called the “mitigating”, “extenuating” or “special circumstances” procedures, or “factors affecting performance”).


Talking about quality: Supporting student discussions on quality, standards and value for money
February 15, 2021
This resource is intended to encourage effective communication between students and higher education providers regarding the nature of the student experience, including the ways this has changed due to COVID-19.

How good practice in digital delivery and assessment has affected student engagement and success - an early exploration
February 5, 2021
This paper offers examples of good practice in digital delivery, highlighting where this has been found to increase student engagement or has been associated with improved student performance.

Updated COVID-19 advice on safety net policies, and placements and practice-based courses
January 18, 2021
QAA has published brief advice to help institutions ensure that students are supported to complete their programmes this summer, alongside advice for providers on safety net policies, and updated guidance on placements and practice-based learning requirements.

How UK Higher Education providers managed the shift to digital delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic
December 21, 2020
This evaluative report confirms that the transition to blended learning was rapid and effective, and highlights a number of positive case studies. The resource is designed to provide confidence in the work undertaken by the UK higher education sector this year, as well as to support our members with their ongoing adjustments.

Consultation launched on revised Higher Education Credit Framework for England guidance
December 18, 2020
The second edition of the Credit Framework is now open for consultation.  It provides a benchmark for providers of higher education in England to reference when designing their degree and other higher education courses.

Consultation launched on revised Education for Sustainable Development Guidance
December 4, 2020
QAA and Advance HE have launched a consultation on revised Education for Sustainable Development Guidance for UK higher education providers. The consultation represents a major rewrite of the ESD guidance - reflecting changes in understandings about and priorities in sustainable development, and the increased urgency for everybody in society to take positive actions in addressing sustainable development issues.


Protecting the value of UK degrees: Reviewing progress one year on from the statement of intent
December 17, 2020
​Universities UK and GuildHE, on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA), have published a progress review of universities' efforts to protect the value of their qualifications.  The report demonstrates significant progress over the past 18 months following the publication of a statement of intent, which saw universities across the UK agree new commitments to address grade inflation.


Spending power of students resilient and robust despite Covid chaos
February 26, 2021
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the spending power of students has remained resilient, according to the first part of the 2021 Student Lifestyle Report.

Students turn to technology with university choices
February 4, 2021
New subject data from UCAS shows a big shift towards technology-based degrees mirroring recent trends, with the last decade seeing impressive growth in engineering and computer science subjects, including a 400% jump in acceptances to artificial intelligence (AI) courses.

UCAS analysis shows potential for step change in equality by 2030
December 16, 2020
The UK’s 38 most selective universities would each only need to admit an additional 70 students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in England every year to close the collective equality gap in their admissions by 2030.


Student Finance in England from 2012 to 2020: From fiscal illusion to graduate contribution?
January 21, 2021
This HEPI Debate Paper argues for the student loan scheme to be replaced by a graduate contribution scheme, including contributions from those who graduated in the era of grant-funded study.

A short guide to non-continuation in UK universities
January 7, 2021
This Policy Note warns that an excessive focus on university drop-out rates conflicts with other important priorities.

Beyond business as usual: Higher education in the era of climate change
December 10, 2020
This report urges universities to have zero carbon emissions by 2035 and to rethink knowledge and teaching practices for the era of climate change.

New poll finds a decline in student mental health but growing satisfaction with online learning
December 3, 2020
The Higher Education Policy Institute has worked with Youthsight on a poll of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students to see how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting them.


The University of Life
February 25, 2021
This report looks at a range of activities offered at university, to examine how well they develop employability and essential life skills in students, as well as whether access to such opportunities differs by socio-economic background.   It is accompanied by a briefing looking at the impact of Covid-19 on the university experience, which highlights that low-income students are more likely to be missing out on extra-curricular activities.

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