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Can we use data to tackle student mental health issues?

Monday 2 December 2019 Data Insight & Analytics

Luke Hardy's picture
By Luke Hardy

Heading off to university is one of the most exciting and most daunting things in many young people’s lives. With a combination of the highs and lows higher education can bring, it’s no wonder students are crying out for universities help them look after their mental health.

In March 2019 a report with a message that hit home for universities across the UK. The report contained data collected from 37,500 students, including the alarming fact that 87.7% struggle with anxiety.

With a growing number of students experiencing mental health issues, the Office for Students (OfS) set up an OfS Challenge Competition geared towards higher educations institutions taking a step to improve mental health outcomes for students. The challenge was set at the end of 2018, with bids for funding from 48 leading institutions considered and the 10 successful projects were unveiled in June 2019. The initiative would invest £6m across these projects, with another £8.5m for the programme, covering 67 universities, colleges and other organisations. Within these projects, the people involved are trying to answer how data could play a part in these changes.

One of these projects led by Northumbria University, in partnership with 9 other organisations is using data analytics in its aim to reduce student suicide rates. By developing an alerts tool, Northumbria hope to more easily identify students in crisis and intervene by pinpointing the early warning signs. This will come from bringing together data from sources such as health, grades, attendance and their engagement with digital learning. With this data all brought into one system, the university will be able to identify patterns from historical data, as well as act quickly on current information.

It’s not just Universities funded through the OfS initiative that are beginning to use intelligent data solutions to effect change. Another recent example was that of Nottingham Trent University, who have implemented a new dashboard that generates an alert if a student doesn’t engage for 14 consecutive days. This flags with the tutor who can then be proactive in following up. These dashboards also contain detailed information that will support the tutor in making that first contact in a potentially sensitive situation and will align closely with other projects championing training in mental health across institutions for both faculty and students.

While these initiatives are relatively new for universities, amongst most of these projects a similar theme emerges, which is that of a joined-up approach. Only by bringing all of the information together can we begin get actionable insight and make truly effective decisions. It is becoming more common for institutions and other organisations to work together and share information in order to achieve this goal. Universities are now working with other institutions, councils, NHS trusts and student unions to ensure they can provide support to create better student outcomes.

As these existing projects report back on their successes over time, we can expect to see more universities follow suit in their implementation of data solutions to improve mental health and wellbeing. This will become increasingly prioritised as students demand for access to mental health facilities and support continues to rise.

CACI work with institutions across higher education as well as the NHS and local authority bodies to support them in achieving their goals through the use of intelligent data solutions. Read about our work with Bath University.


Can we use data to tackle student mental health issues?