Today, 7 November, university leaders demonstrated how they are dealing with the significantly increased demand for student mental health support during a ministerial visit to Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh. The University also showcased its impressive work in developing British Sign Language (BSL) education and culture, and its success in supporting entrepreneurship amongst its students and graduates.
Last week, research by the BBC reported that the number of students in Scotland seeking support for mental health issues had increased by two-thirds over five years. This figure is even higher for QMU. During a visit to the University, Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, learned that QMU has put together a comprehensive model to successfully tackle this challenge. Over the past few years, the University has worked in partnership with the Student Union to introduce a Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy. Implementing the Policy led to investing in a new Wellbeing Service and significantly expanding the support team in the halls of residence. A new and pro-active support programme called Stay-on-Course, which allows early identification of students who may be struggling with their wellbeing and offers appropriate support, was also introduced. QMU has invested in training its staff and students in Mental Health First Aid and now has more than 25 % of its staff trained in this. The University also works in collaboration with a local medical practice, the East Lothian mental health charity CHANGES and East Lothian Council’s Choose Life Steering Group to ensure an all round community approach improving mental health and reducing suicide risk.
In October this year, QMU was one of the first Scottish universities to launch its British Sign Language (BSL) Action Plan. Professor Petra Wend, QMU Principal, said the University had worked tirelessly to produce a robust plan that meets the goals set out by the Scottish Government’s BSL National Plan. In discussions with the minister, university staff shared their plan to develop a BSL friendly culture that supports students and staff. As part of that plan, a BSL user has joined QMU as a lecturer to help develop new levels of BSL awareness across both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The University also shared details of its Masters programme, which is the UK’s first fully online MSc to upskill registered BSL/English interpreters. The online format ensures the programme is accessible to experienced practitioners through the UK and allows them to gain a post registration qualification in the specialist areas of interpreting in which they work or desire to work in such as healthcare, mental health, legal settings, theatre, education.
Professor Wend said: “One exciting development of our BSL Plan is to embed BSL as an additional language in the new teacher education programme which starts in September 2019. The aim is that graduates from the BA (Hons) in Education Studies (Primary) will use BSL in their work as primary school teachers.”
She concluded: “We have been delighted that the minister has shown his support for our work in developing a BSL action plan which we will now embed into our inclusive learning and teaching strategies. We look forward to seeing the impact of our plan on the students and staff and to contribute to Scotland’s ambition to become the best place in the world for BSL users to live, work and visit.”
Richard Lochhead also visited QMU’s Business Innovation Zone, which houses Scotland’s first on-campus Business Gateway. The University is now supporting 36 student and graduate start up companies and is fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, signalling our continued commitment to innovation-led, inclusive economic growth and alignment with the Scottish Government’s Economic Strategy and ScotlandCANDO framework.
Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, said: “Last year we launched our first British Sign Language (BSL) plan and our long term aim is ambitious.
“We want to bring about change that has a real, practical impact on the day to day lives of BSL users and which puts Scotland right up there as the best place in the world for them to live, work and visit.
“I am pleased to see that reflected in QMU’s recently published BSL strategy and welcome their intention to embed sign language in their initial teacher training course.”
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