Two Glasgow universities do not record student suicides, new data finds

A total of 44 students have died at two of the city’s universities over the past four years - but it is not known how many of the deaths were suicides as the establishments do not keep a record.

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Suicide rates are not recorded at these Glasgow universities.

The University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian University were asked how many of their students had lost their lives to suicide in an Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the publishers of GlasgowWorld.

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Between 2018 and 2022, 30 University of Glasgow students died but it is unknown how many of the deaths were because of suicide.

The University of Glasgow said in a response to the FOI request: “When the University’s Registry is notified of the death of a student they mark the student record as deceased and inform the relevant members of staff including Principal’s Office, Clerk of Senate, Secretary of Court, Head of the Staff and Student Support Group and the University Chaplaincy. The death is recorded with a general code in the system; the University does not keep statistics or details about the nature of the death.

“Therefore, the University of Glasgow does not hold the information that you have requested and is not aware of any other public authority that could respond to your request.”

At Glasgow Caledonian University, 14 students died over the same four-year period. The university also doesn’t record suicides when a death is reported.

Glasgow Caledonian University responded to the FOI request by saying: “The University holds no records of the number of student suicides in recent years. The University is not always informed of the cause of a student’s death and as a result we do not hold collated information on the number of students who have died through suicide. We do not hold this information collated in any University records.”

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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 the publishers of GlasgowWorld 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, our investigation found.

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.”

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.”

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.

In Scotland, sudden or unexplained deaths are investigated by procurators fiscal rather than coroners.

A spokesperson for the service said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service engages with bereaved relatives when investigating a sudden or unexplained death. If a Fatal Accident Inquiry is held a university may be notified, if the circumstances dictate.

“COPFS is committed to the thorough and timely investigation of deaths.”

The publishers of GlasgowWorld sent Freedom of Information requests to all UK universities asking how many of their students had died by suicide since 2018.

Of the 114 which replied, 67 (59%) said they did not hold this information.

Five universities refused to divulge the figures.

The responses from the remaining 42 universities revealed records of at least 118 students having taken their own lives since 2018.

The revelation comes as a major national report into the issue of student suicides across England and Wales was published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The study painstakingly matched student death records with coroners’ court records to calculate the national suicide rate among university students.

It found that while the suicide rate was lower among university students than among the wider population of the same age, male students were at greater risk than their female classmates.

In Scotland, student suicides in 2020 reached their highest level in five years, figures show.

In 2020, 39 people who had ‘student’ listed as their occupation died by suicide, compared to 29 in 2016, according to figures obtained from the National Records of Scotland during our investigation. However, the low numbers involved mean trends should be interpreted with caution.

In Northern Ireland, there were 37 student suicides between 2016 and 2020.

Twenty of these were male students and 17 were female, the figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show.

The figures counted anyone who had died by suicide who had ‘student’ listed as their occupation.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of youth suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: “Many people inside and outside of education settings will find themselves supporting a loved one who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.

“This can be a very difficult situation to face, many people will find this challenging and they need to know professional help and support is available.”

  • 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 samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.