A North East MP has called for a statutory duty of care to be placed on universities in an effort to prevent suicide among students – as stats reveal over 100 students a year take their own lives.

Mary Kelly Foy, whose City of Durham constituency includes Durham University, backed the proposals that would give universities greater responsibility for student wellbeing in Parliament on Monday.

Earlier this year, 128,000 people signed a petition created by bereaved families calling for universities to have a legal duty of care towards their students, triggering a debate in parliament.

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In early 2018, 21-year-old maths student Alexandra Wilshaw took her own life in her college bedroom at Durham University. Her death sent shockwaves through the student community and led to the creation of the Alexandra Wilshaw fund by the university and her family.

319 students died of suicide between the 2017-2020 academic years, prompting calls from parents who have lost children while studying, that universities should have a legal duty similar to workplaces' responsibility to employees, in order to protect students from harm.

Petitioners claim such a duty would improve university communication with families, increase the availability of support services and staff training, and introduce the recording and investigation of student suicides, including the publication of student suicide rates, as well as give a consistency of service at all universities.

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Ms Foy spoke of what she described as a “student mental health crisis”, with research by the National Union of Students found one-third of students highlight the cost-of-living crisis as negatively impacting their mental health. 

She stated the measure would be “sensible, justifiable and would save lives” and that the current general duty of care was “too vague and does not provide clarity or consistency” but by contrast a statutory duty would “give students and their parents’ peace of mind that they were protected.”