Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group minutes: December 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 13 December 2022.

Attendees and apologies


  • Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment, and Training (Chair)
  • Debbie Browett, Scottish Government (Vice-chair)
  • Steven Paxton, Scottish Government
  • Kathryn Chisholm, Scottish Government
  • Daniel McCarron, Scottish Government
  • Julie Sinclair, SAAS
  • Lorna Caldwell, SAAS
  • Alison Eales, QAA Scotland
  • Allie Scott, University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Brian Magee, COSCA
  • Craig Smith, SAMH
  • Ellen Mackintosh, University of St Andrews
  • Fiona Burns, SFC
  • Gloria Laurini, SPARQS
  • Jill Stevenson, University of Stirling/AMOSSHE
  • Jon Vincent, Glasgow Clyde College/Colleges Scotland
  • Katie Gilbert, NUS Think Positive
  • Kirsten Amis, Glasgow Clyde College
  • Lauren Knight, Universities Scotland
  • Liam Furby, NUS Scotland
  • Murdo Mathison, UCU
  • Pamela Gillies, Glasgow Caledonian University/Universities Scotland
  • Robert Partridge, University of Glasgow/AMOSSHE
  • Ronnie Millar, University of Edinburgh
  • Ruth Unsworth, University of St Andrews
  • Steve Mulligan, BACP
  • Stewart Forrester, University of Strathclyde
  • Tom Hall, Colleges Scotland


  • Andy Shanks, University of Edinburgh
  • Chris Jones, Unite the Union
  • David Lott, Universities Scotland
  • Eileen Imlah, EIS
  • Fiona Drouet, Emily Test
  • Hannah Axon, COSLA
  • Lynn Kilbride, Robert Gordon University
  • Richmond Davies, Public Health Scotland
  • Stew Fowlie, Scottish Student Sport

Items and actions

Introduction, welcome and apologies

Mr Hepburn welcomed everyone to the meeting and noted apologies from members as listed above.

Minutes of previous meeting

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed as an accurate record and members approved them for publication on the Scottish Government website.

Student poverty

Liam Furby (NUS Scotland) delivered a presentation on the findings from the roundtable on student poverty which was jointly hosted by NUS Scotland and Universities Scotland on 11 October 2022.

The roundtable resulted in a number of recommendations, including:

  • that institutions, government, and local partners work collaboratively on student accommodation, taking affordability and the diverse needs of students into account
  • the need for improved communication from institutions to students on the support available to them, updated in real-time
  • that institutions consider what actions they can take to reduce the financial burden on students, e.g. facilitating warm banks and breakfast clubs
  • that SAAS discretionary funding to return to pandemic levels
  • that parity of access to discretionary funding for international students be extended beyond the current timeframe (July 2023)
  • that the Scottish Government take steps to better understand what is an appropriate level of income for students
  • that the basic student finance package is uplifted in line with inflation
  • the need for equity in student finance for part-time students
  • that part-time students are not excluded from the care experienced student bursary
  • that institutions work to improve transitions for care experienced students as per their statutory responsibility
  • that institutions reassess whether they can act as guarantor in rental agreements for estranged, care experienced and international students

Mr Furby also highlighted the findings from NUS Scotland’s ‘BROKE’ report on student poverty, and the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Thriving Learners’ research, as key pieces of work which should inform the Scottish Government’s approach to student mental health and student support going forward. He stated that the data demonstrates a clear link between financial hardship and mental health which the Scottish Government’s Student Mental Health Plan must address.

Members thanked Mr Furby for his insightful presentation. At this point, the Minister apologised to members that he had to leave the meeting in order to attend urgent parliamentary business. Thereafter, Debbie Browett (Scottish Government) assumed the role of Chair for the remainder of the meeting. .

In response to the points on accommodation, Kathryn Chisholm (Scottish Government) informed members that the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) report on Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) was published on 12 December. The report had been commissioned by the Scottish Government to inform the next stages of the PBSA Review. Moving forward, the PBSA Steering Group will be convened in January to consider and develop the recommendations from the report.

Prof. Pamela Gillies (GCU, Universities Scotland) noted that there is a need for institutions to think laterally about how they support students, drawing on local resources both within institutions and in the wider community. Prof. Gillies cited examples of actions institutions could take, such as offering students paid work and interest-free loans.

Dr Lauren Knight (Universities Scotland) endorsed the recommendation that the removal of restrictions on international students accessing discretionary funding should be extended beyond July 2023, and be made permanent.

Jill Stevenson (University of Stirling, AMOSSHE) commented that institutions’ discretionary funding had declined in real terms when compared with pre-pandemic levels and that this was placing an additional strain on resources.

Debbie Browett advised that Scottish Government policy officials working on student support will be presenting to the Group at the next meeting and will be able to address the issues raised with regards discretionary funding in further detail.

Referral pathways

Debbie Browett (Scottish Government) informed the Group of the outcome of the roundtable discussion on referral pathways, which was hosted by the Scottish Government on 27 September 2022. A draft note of the event was shared with members in advance of the meeting.

Key points from the roundtable included current examples of good practice, which attendees felt could be built on and replicated elsewhere:

  • Ayrshire College and the local NHS Trust and are jointly funding a mental health liaison officer who works across the three campuses to deliver group workshops on preventative measures, to support individual students with mild to moderate mental health issues, and to work with staff on their response to students who present with mental health issues
  • University of Abertay and the University of Dundee have worked collaboratively with NHS Tayside to establish a referral pathway directly to NHS mental health services for students in crisis
  • University of Edinburgh are working regionally with other universities and in collaboration with their NHS health board to develop a referral pathway, and to embed student support needs into NHS planning

Ms Browett also noted the need to improve information on student demographics and demand in order to better inform NHS planning. However, there are difficulties in gathering data on where students live as opposed to where they study.

Jon Vincent (Glasgow Clyde College, Colleges Scotland) commented that he felt the roundtable was productive and the summary of outcomes a fair reflection of the discussion. He asked, however, if the note could be amended to include an ask of the Scottish Government, to define more clearly the role of both institutions and the NHS in providing students with mental health support as,  at present, institutions’ in-house mental health services are supporting students with more acute conditions.

Action: Scottish Government officials to update the note of the roundtable on referral pathways to reflect Mr Vincent’s comments.

Post-meeting note: Scottish Government officials have updated the note accordingly.

Craig Smith (SAMH) noted the important role that the third sector already plays in providing mental health support and linking in with NHS services, and asked that this be considered as part of any approach to improving referral pathways.

Debbie Browett agreed that this will inform Scottish Government thinking on the Student Mental Health Plan, referencing recent positive discussions with GAMH regarding their Compassionate Distress Response Service.

Any other business

Jon Vincent and Tom Hall (Colleges Scotland) requested urgent confirmation from the Scottish Government on continued funding for mental health counsellors in colleges and universities. This point was echoed by a number of members. It was also noted that this funding is particularly critical for colleges who would not be able to provide a counselling service without the Scottish Government’s support.

Debbie Browett advised that the Scottish Government have undertaken a budget reprioritisation exercise with regard to the current financial year commitments and that an announcement on mental health counsellor funding would be made imminently.

Liam Furby noted that the Scottish Government had conducted engagement sessions with students and staff on their upcoming Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and asked whether the outcome of these sessions could be shared with members as part of the consultation process on the Student Mental Health Plan.

Debbie Browett offered to check this with Scottish Government mental health policy officials, noting that the Scottish Government intends to undertake further consultation with students specifically on the Student Mental Health Plan.

Action: Scottish Government officials to look into sharing the data from the staff and student engagement sessions on the Scottish Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy with members.

Tom Hall asked if the length of future meetings could be extended beyond 45 minutes, given the complexity of the issues being discussed by the Group. There was broad agreement by members in support of this suggestion.

Debbie Browett agreed to take this into consideration when arranging the next meeting.

Action: Scottish Government officials to consider extending the length of future meetings.

Date of next meeting

Debbie Browett thanked members for their contributions and informed them that the next meeting of the Group will take place in the new year, with the date to be communicated shortly.

Back to top