Parents ‘horrified’ by response to petition after Bristol student’s suicide | Student health
The parents of Natasha Abrahart, who took her own life while studying at Bristol University, have reacted in ‘absolute horror’ to the government’s response to their petition calling for a legal duty of care for all students of higher education.
The Abraharts are one of 25 bereaved families who helped launch a parliamentary petition last October, calling on ministers to pass legislation to better protect students, arguing that their mental health, safety and wellbeing should be a government priority.
The government’s response says higher education providers already have a “general duty of care” not to harm their students through their own actions. It has angered families who have lost children to suicide, who say it makes no sense without a commitment to establish a legal duty of care.
Natasha’s father, Robert Abrahart, 66, a retired university professor, said he was horrified by the response and accused the government of dodging the question. “If the government agrees with us that students deserve the protection of a legal duty of care, then they should introduce a bill in parliament rather than making bland statements.”
The government’s response, published last month, comes as a new campaign is launched to back the claims of bereaved parents. #ForThe100, named after the 100 students whose campaign estimates are lost to suicide each year in the UK, will be launched on Monday to win wider support for the petition, which currently has more than 15,000 signatures. Once 100,000 has been collected, it will be considered for debate in parliament.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the higher education student suicide rate in the academic year ending in 2020, the latest figures available, in England and Wales was three deaths per 100,000 students – 64 deaths – which would be the lowest rate in the previous four years.
A #ForThe100 statement said: “The duty of care demanded is similar to that which prevails under employment law, that universities should have a legal duty of care to protect their students against reasonably foreseeable harm, caused either by direct injury or by failing to act.
“At work or in school, 18-21-year-olds are vulnerable enough to warrant this obligation, and since providers are happy to take their fees, they should also assume this duty of care. It’s not just about suicide prevention; everyone will benefit from better decision-making within the sector.
Natasha Abrahart, who was in her second year of an undergraduate degree in physics, suffered from severe social anxiety and killed herself in 2018, a day before she was due to take an oral exam in front of tutors and other students. A judge has ruled that the University of Bristol failed to make adequate adjustments to the way it assesses his academic work
Gus Silverman, a human rights attorney who represented the Abraharts, as well as the families of other students who committed suicide, said Natasha’s parents were able to obtain some justice because the special requirements of the law on equality, in the sense that his severe anxiety was a handicap, were encountered in his case.
“However, unless they are able to establish a duty of care in negligence, many families and students will find it very difficult to hold universities accountable in court, including in court. tragic death.
“The government now has the opportunity to clearly define in law the legal obligations of universities towards students. Failure to seize this opportunity risks preventing access to justice through the courts.
A spokesperson for Universities UK, an umbrella organization of 140 universities, said: ‘It is up to the government to decide the legal framework within which universities operate, but it is essential that any additional obligations do not lead to unintended consequences. for students and improves mental health. results and safety for all.
The Department of Education has been approached for comment.