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UEL pioneers big data project aimed at transforming student mental health

students studying at UEL

Multi-partner project, supported by Office for Students, will change the way students in crisis are identified and supported

The University of East London (UEL) is collaborating with educational, industry and charity partners to revolutionise the way the higher education sector identifies and supports mental health issues in students.

A £2 million initiative, which is supported by the Office for Students (OfS), will integrate technology, advanced educational data analytics, student relationship management tools and student support models to find ways to better recognise, understand and support students experiencing mental health problems. 

The University of East London’s work on the project includes leading on the development of an “early alert” tool which will use data mining, analytics and customer service (CRM) information to identify at-risk students. 

Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor and president of the University of East London, said, “This pioneering project will help us identify those members of our student community who may be at risk of mental ill health, to enable us to provide additional targeted support and help earlier. 

“Every one of us can be impacted by mental health and well-being issues. Life transitions, such as moving to University for the first time, can be a time of great change and stress. The University of East London recognises that health gain is a pre-condition of learning gain and we are committed to supporting and developing both the mental and physical health and well-being of our students and staff.

"Working alongside our partners, and with the support of the Office for Students, we expect to create workable solutions, which will be shared with peers across the country, to help us create an environment where our students flourish emotionally and physically as well as intellectually.”

Dr Ian Pickup, chief operating officer at the University of East London, said, “Recognising and supporting student mental health and well-being is a priority not just for the University of East London but for the entire higher education sector.  Clearly, we need to start looking beyond traditional means of outreach and support. On this project, the University of East London will, in particular, look at how we can utilise the latest, most innovative technology currently available to identify vulnerable students much earlier than we currently do, thereby allowing us to intervene when we have the greatest chance of making a difference.”

The University of East London will hire new intervention counsellors, fund PhD students, and create a specialised student group in collaboration with the University of East London Students’ Union. The University will also be expanding its student support work to merge intervention activities with wellbeing services. 

The work supports the University’s new focus on the ‘Mental Wealth’ of students, which aims to provide students with a variety of skills – emotional, social, physical, intellectual, cultural and digital – needed to thrive professionally and personally in a constantly changing world.

The goal of the multi-partner project is to deliver, by 2021, a “whole university”, stepped approach – scalable to the entire higher education sector – to identify and respond to the mental health needs of students in the right place at the right time. This will help institutions pursue more effective interventions and ultimately build engaged and thriving student communities. 

The University of East London is partnering with Northumbria University; Buckinghamshire New University; Universities UK with James Murray; Microsoft Civitas Learning International; The Student Room Group; Jisc; suicide prevention charity Papyrus; Bristol University; and the Student Unions of University of East London, Buckinghamshire New and Northumbria.   

Charles Thornburgh, founder and chief strategy and innovation officer of Civitas Learning, a leading expert in student data, said, “We’re honoured to work with the Office of Students and the University of East London to improve differential attainment, holistic support and student thriving. Students deserve every opportunity to learn and thrive, but many are facing challenges outside of the classroom, including stress, family needs and work commitments. When not addressed, these challenges can impede learning. 

“Change is possible though, and we know that when we help institutions serve students more holistically, more -- and more diverse -- students thrive and ultimately, graduate. When higher education and further education are able to make the most of their learning data, they’re able to know what is working for their students and can better deliver personalized student support at scale. That’s why I founded Civitas Learning.”