Majority of universities don’t know how many students take their own lives

Universities in Birmingham were asked how many of their students had lost their lives to suicide in recent years

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The majority of the UK’s universities do not know how many of their students take their own lives, an investigation by NationalWorld - the publishers of BirminghamWorld - can reveal.

While some simply keep no records, many pointed out that coroners are under no obligation to tell them if one of their students dies by suicide, the investigation found.

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The findings raise questions about whether universities can know if their support services are adequate, with the National Union of Students warning of a “student mental health crisis”.

The union said it was “deeply concerned” about the issue of suicide in higher education.

A spokesperson said: “Students are burdened with anxiety, feeling overlooked by those in power, and unsupported in addressing the financial difficulties that compound the student mental health crisis.

“Students have been campaigning for university welfare services to improve for many years now, and although we’ve seen additional funding for institutions as a result of our efforts, there is still progress to be made.”

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Universities UK, which represents the sector, said: “Universities want to learn from each avoidable student death to improve the ways that we work with statutory services to manage risk.”

It said it was working with the suicide prevention charities Papyrus and Samaritans on new guidance for universities on what to do after a student takes their own life, due to be published this summer.

A spokesperson said it would be interested in discussing whether coroners could notify a university as standard if one of their students died by suicide.

The spokesperson said: “We would definitely be open to exploring this with coroners and public health authorities and how it could work in practice.”

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But the Ministry of Justice appeared less keen, saying coroners were “already obliged to issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report if they identify any circumstances that need addressing”.

“This report is sent to anyone involved that could take appropriate action, including universities,” a spokesperson said.

Suicide rates are not recorded at BCUSuicide rates are not recorded at BCU
Suicide rates are not recorded at BCU

Figures for England and Wales

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the rate of suicide in the 12 months ending July 2017 for higher education students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides; this is higher than in most of the earlier years studied, although the small numbers per year make it difficult to identify statistically significant differences.

Between the 12 months ending July 2013 and the 12 months ending July 2016, higher education students in England and Wales had a significantly lower suicide rate compared with the general population of similar ages.

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Male higher education students had a significantly higher rate of suicide compared with female students.

The number of suicides in the analysis is lower than previous Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates of student suicides; this is likely to be because this analysis focuses on higher education students only, while the ONS previous estimates will cover other students, for example, those in further education.

Figures for universities across Birmingham

Like all the other universities across the country, the universities in Birmingham have been asked whether they record data on student suicides.

The University of Birmingham, University College Birmingham and Birmingham City University (BCU) were each asked how many of their students had lost their lives to suicide between 2018 and 2022 in an Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

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Birmingham City University revealed that it does not record information on student suicides.

Neither the University of Birmingham or University College Birmingham provided a response to the request.

BCU did respond and the FOI revealed that in 2020, 9 BCU students died, but it is unknown how many of the deaths were because of suicide.

The univerity said that it does not record the cause of death.

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For the other years, BCU said it was unable to provide the figures on student deaths and the information is exempt from disclosure under the rules of the Freedom of Information Act.

What has BCU said?

A Birmingham City University spokesperson, said: “Birmingham City University has significantly invested in and developed support services in recent years, including the provision of a dedicated team of mental health and wellbeing experts, as well as a counselling service, staffed both in and out of term time.

The University was also amongst the first members to sign up to the University Mental Health Charter which is designed to support universities to review and improve mental health and wellbeing across the university community post-Covid.

“We place the utmost importance on the health and wellbeing of our students and staff, which underpins the ability of our entire community to thrive.”

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The University of Birmgham and University College Birmingham have both been contacted for comment.

  • Help is available for anyone affected by this issue. Papyrus offers support and advice to young people up to 35 years. Contact Papyrus HopelineUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email [email protected]. You can also call the Samaritans for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit to find your nearest branch.

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