Cambridge University holds review after student deaths

·3-min read
Cambridge University (PA) (PA Wire)
Cambridge University (PA) (PA Wire)

Cambridge University will hold a review after five students died in recent months.

Four of the deaths were suspected suicides and one had been confirmed as a suicide. The students took their own lives between March and June.

Graham Virgo, senior pro-vice chancellor, said the university was “shocked and deeply saddened by the deaths”, adding that Cambridge was taking the situation “extremely seriously”.

He said the university had set up a rapid response unit alongside affected colleges, and that findings from an initial review into the first four deaths were being used as part of ongoing planning by the university.

The deaths had “distressed the whole of the university community,” he said.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” he added.

He said staff across the university and its colleges “work extremely hard to identify and help those who might be vulnerable”, and that students could access different sources of support through their college, the university itself and professional student services – as well as through 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,” he said.

Three students died in May 2022, and another student died in June.

A second-year history student died in March 2022. His inquest heard he was “on course to finish as one of the most accomplished students in his year”.

The head of charity Survivors of Suicide, Claire Curran – who had been involved in supporting his family, said: “Like any family who are bereaved by suicide they are devastated, they are distraught, very traumatised, really struggling to get their heads around what’s happened; immense sadness.

“This is not the kind of death that anyone ever wants to experience.”

The inquest into his death also heard that he had had no contact with college counselling services, and his doctor confirmed he had no history of mental health problems.

The BBC reported that Cambridge University had collated the number of student suicides since 2017-18, according to a Freedom of Information response, finding that during the four years prior to 2021-22, four students had died by suicide, and one by suspected suicide.

After the fourth death in 2022, the university set up an investigation group via the NHS and public health agencies to “review what has happened and what the lessons [are] that we can learn,” Prof Virgo said.

He added: “One thing that came out of the review was that there was no common cause behind these student deaths, but we have, reflecting on the discussions arising from the review, considered various aspects of our practice.

“We already have, for example, training relating to suicide prevention and we want to ensure that training is as good as it can possibly be.”

He said: “We consider all the student deaths that have occurred at the University of Cambridge to be tragic and very concerning. We are not in a position to speculate as to what happened in these cases.

“But we are engaging very carefully with the whole student population with professionals within the university and outside to get a better understanding of what might be going on. I am not in a position to say it is one particular cause.

“It is undoubtedly complex, but it is something that we are seeing throughout the country and certainly throughout the university sector.”

– The Samaritans can be contacted on 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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