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Cross-Party Group on Colleges & Universities

On Thursday 3 Feb 2022, VP Welfare & Wellbeing Luke Humberstone spoke at the Cross-Party Group on Colleges & Universities about a crisis of mental health for students. Read his speech here.

Image of text which reads: "I think what the research shows is a crisis of mental health for student

The Cross Party Group (CPG) on Colleges and Universities is a forum for debate and sharing of information on a wide range of issues affecting the higher and further educations sectors in Scotland.

Luke Humberstone (VP Welfare & Wellbeing) attended the CPG's most recent meeting on 3 February 2022 and gave the following speech. If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, please visit the Wellbeing Support pages of the Union's website or contact your Advice Workers.

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I think what the research shows is a crisis of mental health for students.

Students have all shown tremendous courage and ambition by embarking on their studies. Wanting to better yourself or your knowledge is something which takes motivation and dedication every single day.

What I see on the ground from my friends and peers is despair. In October and November we saw COP26 come to Scotland and as a result of the surge in demand for short term lets students in Glasgow went homeless. The supply of affordable accommodation is poor and of a lower quality than private renters, and that was before an international conference displaced some of my own friends.

Recent research conducted by NUS and Unipol showed that the average annual rent for purpose-built student accommodation in Scotland has increased by 34% since 2018.       

For students studying in Scotland, the average annual rents stand at £6,853 which accounts for 88% of the maximum student loan of £7,750, leaving students with £22.42 per week for all of their other bills.

Is it any wonder that the Thriving Learners Survey shows that 7.2% of students were in households that ran out of food. In some places that figure is higher.

NUS Scotland’s own research from July 2021 found that 12 per cent of Scotland’s students are using foodbanks, 27 per cent rely on credit cards, and 9 per cent turned to bank loans.

But it gets worse, student support is only available during term time. Students who have signed up for multiple year courses are given no support over the summer months.

How do you pay rent then, how do you feed yourself, how do you feed your kids? In one year I dipped into my own pocket to help a friend to feed their 6 year old girl.


What impact is this having?

Well, research conducted by NUS Scotland’s student mental health project, Think Positive, in a survey of over 3,000 students found that pre-pandemic almost half (48.92%) believed lack of money or financial pressures had a negative impact on their mental health.

So the Thriving Learners Survey only confirms what we already knew.

Wouldn’t you worry if you couldn’t afford the roof over your head, or the food on the table. It’s no longer the trope of beans on toast for some students, it’s beans or toast, or nothing.

The Thriving Learners Survey shows alarming levels of low wellbeing, self harm, suicidal ideation, and all of those things I recognise from my own experience and the experience of the students around me.

Counselling is one solution for those feelings, and it works for some. At my own university the counselling provision to students is well known, there is hardly any waiting time to speak to someone, and for those that it can make a difference to, it is a lifeline (a service I have used myself).


But is it enough?

I have painted a picture of poverty in the student population. For those lucky enough to get a job to supplement their income they need to have employment that recognises the commitment to their studies. Juggling both is a challenge, and given the choice of a lecture or paying for heating, many will choose the latter. Goodness knows what will happen as the energy cap is lifted, and the cost of living increases.

But what if you also have caring responsibilities? I have nothing but admiration for my pals who study, work, and care for their children, all at the same time. But they’re not thriving, they have had to make so many sacrifices.

What if you have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness? What then? juggling every aspect I’ve already outlined and trying to understand how that illness impacts on you. Facing stigma as you attempt to grapple with it.

What if you can’t get online to access your course? 1 in 10 respondents (10.3%) of students surveyed in the Thriving Learners Survey felt that they did not have adequate internet access where they lived to engage with university and friends online.

All of this brings me to my final point. Knowing now the pressures of living as a student in Scotland, would you want to study? Or is it only for the privileged? I thought in this country, we thought better than that.


Written by Luke Humberstone, VP Welfare & Wellbeing at UWS Students' Union