Student Mental Health Partnerships Project

UWE Bristol is leading a partnership across the Higher Education sector to improve care for students in need of mental health support through the development and evaluation of local partnerships between universities, the NHS and Students’ Unions, connected via a National Learning Collaborative.

The project is one of ten projects funded through the Office for Students (OfS) Mental Health Challenge Competition, and led by universities across the country, to find innovative approaches to improving mental health outcomes for students.

Universities UK’s ‘Minding Our Future’ report (2018) found that students experience great variation in mental health care, and suggested that there is an urgent need to better co-ordinate care between universities and local NHS services.

Aims of the project

The Student Mental Health Partnerships project aims to:

  • improve local care pathways
  • co-produce the design and delivery of care with students and practitioners
  • share best practice
  • evaluate effective models of partnership working.

Throughout all stages of the programme, university and NHS partners are working together with students and student bodies. We are working with the national charity Student Minds to empower Students’ Unions to play a key role in each local hub and ensure that student voices shape the development of care pathways and other recommendations.

"I just don’t think services talk to each other effectively, I’ve been passed from service to service, rehashing my problems each time and I don’t think they understand how distressing that is "

Elliot , London

Elliot London

Regional partnerships

Five regional partnerships are being developed between universities and local NHS services:


Bristol: Bristol: UWE Bristol, the Students’ Union at UWE, University of Bristol, University of Bristol Students’ Union, Bristol City Council, West of England Academic Health Sciences Network (WEAHSN) and the NHS

This partnership is focussed on the below:

  • Information sharing – improved understanding of Higher Education (HE)/NHS support available and how they work together. A regular Practice Liaison Forum has been set up between local NHS and HE practitioners to share information and to increase mutual learning through training, shadowing and case study discussion
  • Pathways and infrastructure – creating a bespoke student referral and care pathways. Through the Practice Liaison Forum, key NHS and HE practitioners have built stronger links that simplify the sharing of contact and referral details, allowing for cross-referral in instances where consent has been given by a student.
  • Language and culture – through the partnership, practitioners have been able to understand better the language and culture used by different services, reducing challenges around risk and referrals.
  • Research – around student experience of care pathways and consistency with NHS and referral data. Also exploring practitioner experience to bring this valuable perspective into project recommendations
  • Student co-production – two student researchers have been recruited at each university to explore the student experience and through their research to bring a student-led focus to project recommendations.


Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool Guild of Students, and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

This partnership is focussed on:

  • A care pathway focussed specifically on students who self-harm harm (U-COPE) has been developed with Merseycare Trust. This clinical intervention is hosted on-campus and is referred into by central University Support Services, with a new referral pathway has been piloted with Brownlow Health GP practices.
  • Evaluation of U-COPE is underway and linked to ongoing evaluation of COPE and HOPE services located elsewhere in Liverpool. This service evaluation of the delivery of this intervention within the student population will be used to inform developing local protocols and guidelines for the treatment of self-harm in community settings.
  • During the 2020/21 academic year, 100 students had been referred into the U-COPE service, with 40 students completing the six-session course of treatment.
  • Embedding systematic partnership approaches in the support of students requiring mental health services, particularly those in crisis. Following in-depth process mapping of care pathways and student experiences of them, new ‘liaison model’ approaches are being piloted whereby students receive additional follow-up contact with project clinicians to support appropriate signposting. This approach compliments multi-disciplinary team meetings established early in the project and shows promise as an effective model of student care. During the pilot phase, 200 student interactions occurred as a result of this new approach. 

Visit the University of Liverpool Student Mental Health Project for further information.


Manchester: University of Manchester, University of Manchester Students’ Union, and the NHS

In September 2019, Greater Manchester (GM) launched a pilot Higher Education mental health (MH) service for students with significant mental illness. It offers a single designated mental health pathway for students across the region and is a partnership between University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Salford, University of Bolton and Royal Northern College of Music, together with the Devolved Authority and the GM Health and Social Care Partnership. In its first year, the service supported around 378 students.

The pathway aims to offer a seamless experience of care and treatment, with access through existing university services.

This partnership is focussed on:

  • co-producing with students, service users and staff on a robust, innovative range of evaluation tools and approaches (approaches are being trialled with HEI service users)
  • evaluating the new service’s impact on mental health outcomes amongst service users, their academic outcomes (retention, progression and attainment) and the benefits/challenges of our approach to partnership working (service user workshops are being run with HEI services)
  • evaluating the individual stories of specific service users – to allow a focus on intersectionality
  • contributing to the lessons learnt from all approaches across the participating regions, through regular partnership meetings with student partners.

North London

North London: University College London (UCL), Students’ Union UCL, Imperial College London, Imperial College Union, iCope (Camden and Islington IAPT service) and other NHS services

The partnership work in North London is centred around further developing the UCL Steps Model, the framework for a care pathway for all students needing support with their mental health, in collaboration with students. The Steps Model titrates support to need, reflects the developmental needs of students, and facilitates cross-sector partnerships working by bringing together elements of the NICE-recommended stepped-care model used in adult services, with the iThrive framework for young people.

Projects which are part of Student Mental Health Partnerships at UCL include the below:

  • IMPACTS (IMProving ACcess to Treatment and Support) - A mixed-methods study, led by student peer researchers, investigating barriers to students accessing support and their experiences of care
  • Student Fellows Consultation (at UCL and Imperial College), focused on four themes:
    • Students’ views on data sharing between universities and other services (eg the NHS)
    • Students’ expectations of mental health and support services
    • Students’ views on social prescribing
    • Students’ views on peer support
  • Workshop and Peer Support Blended Intervention - A pilot project with Students’ Union UCL and iCope (North London IAPT service) to improve pathways into support by creating a ‘peer link worker’ role to support students’ navigation of services and support available to them for their mental health
  • UCL University Clinic - An NHS clinic set up at UCL to provide evidence-based treatment to students, staffed by trained professionals from the NHS, clinical academics from the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and NHS-funded clinical trainees
  • NHS Integration Operational Group - Convened by PsychUP for Wellbeing to enable closer collaboration between UCL and NHS services, the group includes representation from Students' Union UCL, UCL Student Support and Wellbeing, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, and local NHS services
  • Members of staff at Imperial being interviewed to understand utilisation of pathways into NHS support
  • Student Services Partnerships Evaluation and Quality Standards (SPEQS) – led by the University of Sheffield in collaboration with UCL – an evaluation capturing both service and student perspectives on partnership working from the five hubs

The project is coordinated by the PsychUP for Wellbeing programme.


Sheffield: University of Sheffield, Sheffield Students’ Union, and the NHS

This partnership is focussed on:

  • Increasing capacity and helping to bridge the gap between primary and secondary care with the provision of evidence-based interventions.
  • Enabling high level training and supervision of trainee therapists
  • Developing high quality and high impact research projects
  • Developing and testing an evaluation framework

"I’ve had so many assessments from different care providers and repeated my story several times unnecessarily. It's just exhausting."

Amy, Manchester

Amy Manchester

National Learning Collaborative

Universities UK is leading a National Learning Collaborative that brings together the Higher Education and health sector bodies – Universities UK, Student Minds, the Mental Health Network and the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) with local university health sector partnerships. The aim is to:

  • share learning to improve access to care coordination 
  • support the commitment to student mental health in the NHS long-term plan and explore place and population-based approaches
  • embed co-production of service design and delivery with students and practitioners.

The National Learning Collaborative has established two working groups to draw from the experience of the regional partnerships into wider policy:

  • Service Transformation Group – to advise NHS England on student mental health service models
  • Risk Group – to produce a set of principles for risk assessment and case management

The Academic Health Science Network

There are 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England. They were established by NHS England in 2013 to spread innovation at pace and scale. Each AHSN works across a distinct geography serving a different population in each region, but they all come together to form the AHSN Network.

The AHSN excels at improving quality and promoting adoption and spread of proven innovations into practice. The project is working with AHSNs to help connect with relevant NHS bodies, and to advise the project on innovation and system change across NHS services.

What will the project deliver?

  • Partnership working between universities and local NHS services
  • Final report to share impact of the different regional partnerships
  • Evidence-based evaluation framework