The significance of pastoral care on University Mental Health Day

04 March 2021
Posted by Study Group

A Lancaster University and Study Group perspective on the significance of pastoral care for international students on University Mental Health Day

The UK is a world-leading academic hub, and every year tens of thousands of international students – from promising undergraduates through to skilled postgraduates – choose to leave their home countries to attend British universities. In addition to the country’s academic excellence, students appreciate the UK’s welcoming, multicultural and vibrant society, and now, the country’s efficient COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

We are incredibly grateful that students across the world choose to study in the UK, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that they are well cared for as they do. This is especially pertinent as we mark University Mental Health Day on March 4.

The mental health of many international students has been profoundly affected by the pandemic and disruptions to counselling services. This, combined with different cultural understandings of mental health, means that it is particularly important to guarantee that international students continue to receive dedicated support from their institutions.

As Dr Mark Cunnington, Chief Operating Officer for the UK and EU at Study Group, comments:

“At a significant time in UK history, where the country is turning a corner in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic as a result of the world-leading vaccine roll-out programme, we are delighted to see that UK universities are more popular than ever before with international students. According to UCAS, international student applications to UK universities has recently reached an all-time high, increasing by 17% for the 2021/2022 academic year. As we welcome these students to our country, it is our duty to ensure that they are happy, healthy and confident so that they can get the most from the experience.

To continue to attract the world’s best and brightest students, the UK must remain focused on robust academic provision and, crucially, student welfare at both the government and institutional level.

The government’s recent International Education Strategy clearly demonstrates an understanding that international students must be well supported if the country is to continue succeeding as a world-class education destination. The initiatives put forward in the updated strategy will enhance the overall experience of international students from the moment they arrive in the UK to ensure that they can fully integrate into university life in the UK. The policy also aims to increase education exports by 75 percent in under a decade by eliminating barriers to international students and ensuring their continuing wellbeing.

At Study Group, student welfare has always been a key priority for our organisation. Every student we work with has access to a dedicated welfare officer who can address their academic and pastoral needs. We also implement student buddy schemes with other students to assist them as they integrate into an unfamiliar environment, and we host regular extracurricular activities to support mental and physical wellbeing."

Among Study Group’s prestigious partner institutions is Lancaster University, a world-class UK higher education institution, which was named International University of the Year by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020. Lancaster is also doing its part to secure the UK as a desirable international education destination.

Tom Buckley, International Director and Principal of Cartmel College at Lancaster University in the UK, offers his perspective on the importance of a supportive environment for international students:

“At Lancaster University, we appreciate that creating a supportive and safe environment enables international students to flourish. Our College system provides a level of connection and support beyond a standard university offering. I am particularly proud of how our student leaders in the Colleges have focused their efforts on supporting their peers around the globe through the last year and have already commence plans for meaningful welcome for the next academic year.

Lancaster prides itself on putting the academic and personal development of our students first and this ethos has been key to working through the challenges of the last year. I have never been prouder to be part of the Lancaster community”.

Joe Robinson, Wellbeing and Support Officer at the Lancaster University International Study Centre adds:

"At Lancaster University ISC, we are aware of the mental challenges that face our international students and the effect that this has on their academic performance. The national lockdown also brings additional obstacles with so many students facing isolation throughout the academic year and the ISC is fully equipped to support students through this abnormal time.

The ISC has a dedicated Wellbeing and Safeguarding Officer who is the designated point of contact for all student wellbeing issues and also works as a conduit between the ISC and the university. As well as having a range of readily available resources through our Virtual Reception on a range of mental health issues, including therapy sessions external to the university, we work in partnership with the university to refer appropriate students to counselling services. In addition, we offer a host of drop in and one to one session throughout the year covering issues such as exam anxiety/techniques.

We prioritise our students' wellbeing over everything and our current provision lets the student know that there is always someone to talk to and there is always help available.”

With the supportive approach demonstrated by globally-minded higher education providers, such as Study Group and Lancaster University, it is not surprising that more international students than ever before are applying to study at UK universities.

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