A statement from Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), on the deaths of five University of Cambridge students over recent months.

We are shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of five students at the University of Cambridge over recent months. Our thoughts are very much with the families and friends of the students who have died.

I want to reassure you that the University is taking this extremely seriously and is determined to work closely with our partners to help prevent future deaths. This statement provides an update and sets out the actions we are taking.

The University, along with the affected Colleges, set up a rapid Incident Response Group with the involvement of local Public Health colleagues from the local authority and the NHS. Following national guidance, this Group has reviewed the first four deaths of students at different Colleges, taking into account information received from the University and Colleges, as well as the agencies represented on the local Suicide Prevention Group (including the Clinical Commissioning Group, mental health trust, ambulance service, Police, the Coroner, MIND and other voluntary sector organisations). Following this review, a fifth student died which is now being reviewed using the same process.

Following a Public Health-led process and review, our Incident Response Group was advised that no common cause or clear linkages were evident from the first four deaths. The Coroner has ruled on one death, which has been confirmed as suicide, and the Coroner has not yet begun inquiries into the other four. All of these students were valued members of our community and affected Colleges are in contact with the parents of those students who have died to support them at this extremely difficult time.

We have provided access to bereavement support for the friends of the students who have died and have worked closely with the local NHS mental health crisis service to ensure that they are aware of the potential vulnerabilities among some of the students affected. In addition, we have informed the Department for Education and the Office for Students.

Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. Staff across the University and its Colleges work extremely hard to identify and help those who might be vulnerable. The way our collegiate University works means that different sources of support are available to students: through each College community in which they live and study; through the University itself and the professional student services it provides; and then via the NHS. Sadly, across universities here in the UK, and internationally, we are seeing growing numbers of young people using counselling services and reporting struggles with their mental health.

In 2020, we launched the development of a new strategy and action plan to enhance the support for mental health and wellbeing already available for students across the collegiate University. Investment is rising to over £5m per year, following significant additional investment by the University in this work, and we are putting measures in place that include:

An increase in investment into the University Counselling Service to reduce waiting times, a team of Mental Health Advisors to ensure that those students with the highest need for mental health support receive the help they need, and a new team of Student Wellbeing Advisors to help ensure that preventative support for students is easily available and accessible.

Dedicated wellbeing advisors in Colleges to enable early identification of students in distress and to enhance support within the Colleges, as well as training in suicide awareness for frontline staff.

Closer links and information exchange through a new partnership with the NHS – also involving our neighbour University, Anglia Ruskin – to ensure that our students are receiving the clinical support they need for their mental health.

This plan targets areas in which we believe we can see the greatest impact, and these recent tragic deaths show how vital this work is.

For anyone who has been affected by this news there is a range of support available.

University of Cambridge

NHS and charity




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