100 students take their life every year. This petition is calling for urgent change at unis
‘We want students to be protected, but not everybody is safe at university’
100 students take their own life every year, but a petition is fighting to change this, calling for universities to have a legal duty of care towards their students.
The petition is created by the LEARN Network community of bereaved families and campaign group For The 100, who are calling for students across the UK to be better protected. For The 100 says: “We’re like you: mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends and families from all walks of life.
“We want students across the UK to be protected. But not everybody is safe at university.”
Currently, UK universities have no statutory obligation of duty of care towards their students.
In April 2018, 20-year-old physics student Natasha Abrahart tragically took her own life. Last year Natasha’s parents, Bob and Margaret, successfully sued the University of Bristol, with the judge finding that the institution discriminated against their daughter, leading to her death.
Bob, Natasha’s father, has said: “Although the judge in our case found that the university caused Natasha’s death by discriminating against her, he said he couldn’t find that the university was negligent because it didn’t owe Natasha a ‘common law duty of care.”
“A duty of care is owed to students, and the government should legislate for this”, the petition says. “[Higher education] providers should know what their duty is. Students must know what they can expect.
“Parents expect their children to be safe at university. The mental health, safety and well-being of [higher education] students should be a Government priority. Student engagement, retention and success should be another. Both are indisputably linked to the duty of care students receive.”
Maxine, the mother of Oskar Carrick, a 21-year-old Sheffield Hallam student who died in his halls in June 2021, said: “Our son did not come to Sheffield to die, he came to learn skills and to meet friends. Oskar is not able to put his side of the story over, so as his parents it is our duty to give him a voice.”
Romy Ulvestad was a second year classics student at Edinburgh, who sadly took her own life at age 21 in 2020. Her mother Libby has said: “I tell all my friends: don’t send your child to university and think they will be taken care of. Don’t rely on the university to do that.”
An Edinburgh spokesperson said it was “deeply sorry” after an internal investigation “identified gaps in the support we provided for Romily”. “It is important that we acknowledge and accept when there have been failings, as there have been in this case”, it said.
Romy, Natasha and Oskar’s families are just some of those fighting for change.
The petition currently stands at over 110,000 signatures – past the threshold for 100,000 signatures, after which the petition will be considered for a debate in parliament.. You can still sign it here.
Following this landmark number, the LEARN Network said: “We now ask that the government does the right thing and holds the much-needed debate. It must give voice to our supporters, consider what needs to change and revisit the sector’s duty of care standards. It is clear that the public expects more from our HE institutions.”
“It is time to recognise the special relationship that universities have with their students. Young adults looking to find themselves are investing 10’s of thousands in education. Our universities should be a stepping-stone to adulthood, a path to success but for too many it’s a stone from which they will fall. We have a mental health crisis in our young and it is totally foreseeable that action (or inaction) that affects the student journey could have consequences for student mental health. Universities must do more to support students and ensure they are getting value for money.”
Lee Fryatt, a member of the LEARN Network who created the petition after losing his son Daniel, a Bath Spa student, to suicide, believes his son’s death would have been prevented had there been a proper understanding and commitment to duty of care.
He said: “Where universities have some measure of control, for example, dismissal, fitness to study, extenuating circumstances and failed exams, they must take reasonable steps to protect the student. Consideration of the impact on the mental health of the student should be at the core of all decision making and so should a legal duty of care”.
The government has already responded to the petition earlier this year, saying: “Higher Education providers already have a general duty of care not to cause harm to their students through their own actions.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, Calm (Campaign against living miserably) on 0800 58 58 58, and Student Minds online here. You matter.