Committing to a culture of mental health and wellbeing for all

OU Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Blackman discusses how the OU supports students with their mental health.

The Open University was founded in 1969 to provide access to higher education for anyone who has a desire to learn, reaching people who would otherwise have no opportunity to learn and change their lives for the better. Across the UK, today:

  • A third of our students come to us with less than the conventional minimum entry qualifications for university study
  • Two thirds of our students are aged over 25
  • 3 in 4 of our students are already in work
  • 23,000 disabled students are studying with us
  • 1 in 10 of our students declare a mental health disability (6% of our student population)

Our youngest graduate is aged 13. Our oldest graduate is aged 93. There is no typical OU student; people of all ages and backgrounds study with us. Every one of those 173,000 students matter. Their mental wellbeing matters.


We understand that mental health and wellbeing can have a major impact on how people manage their everyday lives. We are particularly mindful of the relationship between a student’s mental health and wellbeing and their ability to engage positively with study. We know that mental health is not one thing or solely related to disability or illness, but that we are all on a continuum of mental health and may experience fluctuating mental health throughout our lives.

I am committed to the OU providing the right support, systems, training and partnerships to ensure staff and students can flourish and succeed in a culture that embeds mental health and wellbeing for all, across our day-to-day practices.

My leadership team, the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive, is committed to a whole institution approach to staff and student mental health and wellbeing. Fary Cachelin, the Executive Dean for the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies is the University Champion for mental health and wellbeing, promoting and encouraging the consideration of mental health and wellbeing in all Open University strategies, policies, processes and plans.

We work in partnership with The Open University Students Association, Big White Wall (an online mental health service provider, supported by qualified clinicians), Barnardo’s for robust safeguarding policies and processes, employers, third sector organisations and researchers. Building on these partnerships, we will soon be launching a University-wide Mental Health and Well-being strategy to enhance our support provision and positively promote mental health and wellbeing, making it easier for people to speak about mental health and stress concerns without fear, and to reach out for help when they need it.

This Staff and Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy has been developed jointly by the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group and People Services. It is an important milestone in demonstrating our commitment to the holistic support of staff and students alike.

My ambition is that the OU becomes an exemplar of mental health and well-being practices, continuing to support our students and their ambitions, providing an environment and a community that is geared to their success. I hope to be telling you more very soon but in the meanwhile, if you think we can be doing more and you have some ideas, please do write to me on

Professor Tim Blackman
Open University Vice-Chancellor

Posted on behalf of OU Vice Chancellor, Professor Tim Blackman, for Uni Mental Health Day.

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