Catch-up with the latest news and insights on education in the UK.

News

New guidance on mental health and wellbeing – supporting staff and students more important now than ever
Mon
18
May 2020

An improved approach to mental health and wellbeing at universities is being set out by Universities UK to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The importance of mental health and wellbeing is in focus now more than ever as people adapt to new ways of living, working and studying. For universities, this means enhancing support for students and staff alike.

UUK has published a refreshed version of its strategic framework, Stepchange: mentally healthy universities, calling on universities to prioritise the mental health of their students and staff by taking a whole university approach to mental health, meaning that mental health and wellbeing is considered across every aspect of the university and is part of all practices, policies, courses and cultures.

The Stepchange approach and shared set of principles inform the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter which will provide a voluntary accreditation scheme for universities. UUK has also published an open access self-assessment tool developed with the Child Outcomes Research Consortium.

Recommended actions within the new framework include:

  • demonstrating visible leadership and senior ownership of mental health as a priority to promote open conversations and sustain change

  • working closely with students and staff to develop mental health strategies and services

  • ensuring accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff

  • focusing on staff mental health; inclusion of mental health in staff performance discussions and provision of appropriate training for line managers and supervisors

  • clarification of the key role of academic staff in supporting the mental health of students through appropriate training and development

  • commitment to assessments and course work that stretch and test learning without imposing unnecessary stress

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: "At this difficult and unprecedented time, during which universities have moved all of their student support provision online as well as supporting those students still living at university, we are releasing this framework because the top priority for all universities remains the safety, health and wellbeing of the entire university community.

"We are calling on vice-chancellors to lead from the front and use this updated framework to help students and staff thrive and achieve their full potential. Significantly, the framework encourages a new focus on staff mental health, starting with open conversations.

"Universities must be healthy spaces. By taking a whole university approach to mental health and working more closely with the health and care system, universities have the ability to change the lives of students, staff and communities."

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: "I understand this is an incredibly difficult time for students and it is one of my top priorities to do all I can to make sure students have the support they need.

"Supporting students' mental health is important all-year round, but it is even more crucial during this uncertain and troubling time. That is why I wrote to universities at the very start of this pandemic outlining that protecting student's mental health and wellbeing during this period is an absolute priority.

"I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by universities towards this issue. There is still more that can be done and I hope the updated framework will help providers improve the support on offer and create a university-wide approach."

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol and Chair of UUK's Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, said: "It's absolutely vital for universities look after their communities of students and staff, to support them through mental health difficulties and help them to thrive and succeed, and even more so during the current challenges we're all facing due to COVID-19.

"The Stepchange framework provided us with an opportunity to develop a whole university approach. The new framework builds on the learning of Stepchange and moves us forward by extending our scope and thinking. It is about getting universities to think about mental health and wellbeing across all their activities and people and implement a whole university approach, with students and staff involved at all stages of the journey.

"Universities must also work in close partnership with parents, schools and employers to prepare students for the transition to higher education and with the NHS to coordinate mental healthcare for students, and to ensure that mental health continues to be a strategic priority."

 

Improving links between universities and businesses will further develop societal and economic impact
Fri
24
Apr 2020

Universities can build on their leading role in society and develop links between UK institutions, industry and local communities by committing to better exchange of information, knowledge and skills.

The Knowledge Exchange Concordat, published today, will help universities and other providers of higher education and research work more effectively with each other, businesses and other organisations at a vital time as the UK continues to fight back against Covid-19. It will provide a better structure for the sharing and development of life-saving research and in-demand skills by outlining good practice and showing what works, helping the UK economy prosper and enhancing society.

Knowledge exchange (KE) refers to any action through which knowledge and research is shared between universities and partner organisations and turned into impact in society and the economy. The breadth of ways in which this is achieved has been well demonstrated by the response to the current Covid-19 crisis. The many contributions by universities, highlighted in the #WeAreTogether campaign, includes vital research into tests and vaccines, protective equipment has been developed and shared, healthcare students have graduated early and enrolled in the NHS and university staff have used their knowledge and skills in different ways to support the fightback and their students.

UK universities received £4.9 billion from knowledge exchange activities in 2018-19, helping fund activities to boost scientific, technological, medical and cultural breakthroughs.

More effective knowledge sharing between universities and businesses will also demonstrate to UK government that the sector is playing an active role in helping reach the target spend of 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027. This in turn will be vital in the recovery of the UK from the current crisis and ensure that UK remains a global leader in addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

The concordat, which outlines good practice and eight major guiding principles for institutions to follow, has been drafted by Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University and Chair of the UUK & Research England KE Concordat Task and Finish Group. It is delivered by Universities UK and GuildHE, and supported by Research England, the National Centre for Universities & Business and PraxisAuril.

Amanda Solloway, Minister for Science, Research & Innovation, said: “I welcome the initiative taken by the higher education sector to set itself high standards in knowledge exchange and commit to a long-term programme of continuous improvement, engagement and capacity building in their Knowledge Exchange activities, through the Knowledge Exchange Concordat.”

Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University and Chair of the UUK & Research England KE Concordat Task and Finish Group, said: “I am pleased to see the release of the Knowledge Exchange Concordat today. Effective knowledge exchange activities increase the impact of university research and education, and our responsibilities to social development and economic growth. The concordat provides a framework in which our universities can have the approaches in place to facilitate our staff and students to continue to have a major impact.”

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “Effective knowledge exchange, driven by our world-leading universities, will ensure the development of key skills that will drive productivity and support new business.

“The concordat will support universities to promote the many different forms of knowledge exchange and business partnerships that make our diverse sector so impactful. The way UK institutions are working alongside UK government and industry to fight coronavirus is indicative of the excellent work already being done in this area”.

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer of GuildHE, said: “We are pleased to be launching the Knowledge Exchange Concordat with Universities UK. Small and specialist institutions play vital roles in local, national and international knowledge exchange ecosystems by working with businesses and other organisations large and small to deliver social, cultural and economic benefits. We look forward to supporting our members and the wider sector in embedding the Concordat's principles."

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: “I am pleased to see the publication of the KE concordat and very much welcome that its development has been sector-led.

“The concordat provides the means to continuously improve institutional KE performance and I see it as critical in assurance of our funding, especially driving efficiency and effectiveness.”

Joe Marshall, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business, said: “Universities’ knowledge exchange activities play an incredibly important role in attracting, supporting and enhancing businesses and other organisations. The Concordat is an important vehicle for universities to proactively show their commitment to collaboration with others and demonstrate to external partners that through self-improvement they want to build better and deeper partnerships.”

Union 'absolutely right' in warning on university finances - UUK response to London Economics report
Thu
23
Apr 2020

In response to research published today by London Economics for the University and College Union, Universities UK welcomes the new independent analysis into the potential economic and societal impact of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic in higher education. 

The report highlights the huge scale of the potential impact on students, universities, the jobs market, local communities and the wider economy if urgent action is not taken by government.

Universities UK has recently published a balanced package of proposals to government to mitigate these challenges and ensure the sector is able to play a key role in the UK’s recovery and awaits a response from government to this.

The Chief Executive of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, said:

“Universities have a vital role to play in the recovery of economies and communities. This helpful report highlights the critical financial risks for the sector which not only threaten this role but put some universities at risk of financial failure.

“The union is absolutely right to warn of the knock-on impacts this would have for jobs, regional economics, local communities and students.

“Government must take urgent action to provide the support which can ensure universities are able to weather these very serious challenges, and to protect students, maintain research, and retain our capacity to drive the recovery of the economy and communities.”

Universities UK’s own analysis shows that some institutions will be particularly impacted by any combined reduction in international student numbers and increased deferrals. Those are likely to have higher levels of external borrowing and lower levels of cash reserves.  This limits the ability of the most vulnerable institutions in this scenario to increase their borrowing to mitigate the consequences of reduced student numbers. 

Meanwhile institutions facing the greatest financial pressure in general have higher proportions of BAME students. This would mean that this group could be disproportionately affected if their institutions face financial difficulty and their institutions’ ability to provide a high-quality student experience is affected.

 

Latest government measures to control the Coronavirus outbreak
Sat
18
Apr 2020

UUK response to latest government measures on Coronavirus


Commenting on the latest government measures to control the Coronavirus outbreak, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“We are facing unprecedented challenges as a country, and universities continue to respond in the best interests of their students, staff and their local communities. The health and wellbeing of all students and staff is the number one priority and a range of measures are being taken to keep university communities well-informed, supported and safe.

“The government understands that universities must continue some essential services and cannot fully be locked down given students living on many campuses and some areas of research that cannot be left unmonitored. Universities are particularly mindful of international students who are separated from friends and family and may be unable to travel because of the pandemic. Universities will continue to do all they can to support those remaining on campuses and keep them safe, and are regularly communicating with students and staff to provide them with timely and accurate information.

“Universities are also considering ways in which they can support their local communities and the national effort – offering expertise, equipment and facilities.

“We await further information following today’s announcement that school exams will not go ahead. Students should not lose out on the opportunity to go on to university this year because of the challenges posed by the pandemic. We are committed to working closely with the government, UCAS, examination regulators and school leaders on the practical implications of this and hope there will be clarity on this for students, parents, teachers and university admissions staff as soon as possible.”

Universities UK response to NUS letter calling for 'no detriment' exam policy
Tue
14
Apr 2020

Universities recognise the exceptional circumstances in which students are being taught and assessed and are ensuring that the qualifications students are awarded hold their value and meet the requirements of accrediting bodies so as to enable students to progress smoothly into their chosen profession.


Universities UK has written an open letter in response to the 7 April letter from the NUS President which has called for a national 'no detriment' approach to exams and assessments.

In her response, UUK President Julia Buckingham stated that central to the approaches being taken by universities both for teaching and assessments is a principle of fairness. UUK is encouraging its members to consider any adjustments they make for students in this light. 

The work of universities is also being strongly guided by regulatory notices from the Office for Students and guidance published by the QAA. These stress that while ‘no detriment’ and ‘safety net’ approaches may be appropriate in some instances, the operationalisation of these cannot be at the expense of academic standards.

Read the letter:
Actions being taken by universities in response to coronavirus
Mon
13
Apr 2020

In response to the coronavirus, the way that universities deliver their teaching and other services will likely change over the coming weeks. 


Universities are prioritising student and staff wellbeing by:

  • Encouraging adherence to public health advice
  • Helping to raise awareness in students and staff of risk factors and symptoms
  • Reinforcing public health advice to self-isolate for 7 days without contacting NHS111 if experiencing mild symptoms regardless of travel history
  • Providing students and staff who are self-isolating with clear guidance re accessing support and care if symptoms persist and worsen.
  • Providing students and staff with support regarding additional anxiety as consequence of the pandemic
  • Providing support for any students who may be experiencing harassment related to the pandemic.

In the past few days we have seen a growing number of decisions by universities to start implementing social distancing strategies, such as moving to more online delivery of teaching and increased home working by staff. At present there is no government advice to universities about this, and therefore any operational decision by individual universities must be based on their local circumstances, which vary for a variety of reasons.  

Some of the measures we are seeing across the university sector include:

  • Shifting to online delivery of teaching and learning wherever possible, some immediately, some over the next week ahead of Easter vacation, others planning to do so soon after Easter
  • Encouraging home working of students and staff where appropriate
  • Postponing March/April graduation ceremonies
  • Cancelling in-person open days
  • Changing examination arrangements
  • In all cases we know university staff are working to support staff and students to continue to work and study where it is practical to do so and provide access to resources remotely. 
We are not aware of any universities that are planning to close. Most universities cannot fully close as they have commitments to students who live on campus, to certain research that must run around the clock and to maintaining infrastructure and other systems that cannot simply be switched off or left unattended.