An investigation by The Guardian has found that most leading universities do not have adequate policies in place to support students whose attendance is affected by mental health issues, and that this can result in students suffering academic sanctions.
According to the report, only one in four of the 21 universities that responded to a Freedom of Information request showed intervention policies that directed university support services to contact those missing from a defined number of classes.
The University of Manchester was highlighted as one institution that requested struggling students meet with their programme director if their non-attendance reached a certain threshold, which student representatives warned could be challenging for some students suffering with mental illness.
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said the University is “is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of its students,” and that they aware that changes in attendance patterns can be part of a wider picture that may indicate concerns for the students’ welfare, “and we approach difficulties in attendance with this in mind”.
According to the report, the University’s policy also dictates that a ‘formal warning’ will be issued if the student does not reply to this request within five working days, or cannot provide a “satisfactory explanation” for their absences.
In an email sent to those with poor attendance, the University explains that if “a student’s attendance has been affected by your DASS registered condition, we want to support you and we would be grateful if you could contact your Programme Administrator to confirm that this has been the reason for your absence”.
The University’s Policy on Recording and Monitoring Attendance requires Schools to implement “procedures with identified trigger points which indicate that non-attendance has become a concern or where a pattern of absence begins to raise concerns with regards to a student’s wellbeing”. While this shows that the University has procedures to identify at-risk students, it is not clear what steps should be taken to report concerns about a student’s wellbeing to relevant support services.
The Disability Advisory & Support Service (DASS) offers support with possible attendance issues, and can inform a students’ School if their condition prevents you from attending. However, the service makes it clear that students should inform their School if they are going to miss classes.
UoM also requests that students contact their academic advisor, to access work they may have missed due to their condition. Speaking to The Mancunion, one second-year student said: “My academic advisor didn’t explain my options or the support available. I was just told to ‘go to class'”.
She added that she was told that it was too late in the term for her to benefit from DASS services.
Another student expressed a positive view of the university’s support: “I’ve always found the University to be understanding when I’ve had mitigating circumstances, and my tutors especially have been very accommodating when I’ve needed to take more time due to mental health issues.”
This is not the first time concern has been raised about the way Manchester University supports students suffering from mental illnesses. In June of this year, an inquest into student Gus Lloyd’s death heard how he felt the University had failed to support him in a note he wrote shortly before his death, reading: “I was surprised that the University, despite having a record of my suicide attempt two years ago, wasn’t making more of an effort to check up on me once the exact same thing started happening again.”
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester told The Mancunion: “The University is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of its students. We are acutely aware that changes in attendance patterns can be part of a wider picture that may indicate concerns for the students’ welfare and we approach difficulties in attendance with this in mind. Within the Policy for Recording and Monitoring Attendance specific mention is made of the need to ensure “referral to relevant support services where appropriate” and this is reiterated to the student in any communication to them about their attendance.
“The Policy for Recording and Monitoring Attendance forms part of a suite of polices and associated procedures that aim to support students to engage with their course and to provide support –both from within their Schools and from central specialist services – when they are struggling. For example, the University has a specific Support to Study procedure as part of its Policy on Supporting Health, Fitness and Return to Study.
“This explicitly “details the ways that the University may support a student where their health and/or behaviour is significantly impacting on their ability to progress academically and/or function at the University”. In addition the Policy on Mitigating Circumstances enables students to have mental health difficulties, amongst other things, taken into account in relation to assessed work or attendance.”
A 2016 YouGov survey found that 27% of UK university students reported having mental health problems. Among the students surveyed, 18% had already made use of university mental health services.
Find out more information about the University of Manchester Counseling Service via their website or visit the Advice Service on the first floor of the Students Union, open for drop-in appointments 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.