STAFF at Stirling University have misinformed people about their processes for recording student suicide statistics, Brig can reveal.
Students have been misled by the University, following conflicting information issued by staff in regard to the statistics.
In November, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that figures for student deaths by suicide are now available since the 2016/17 academic year.
However, in October 2017, the university responded to a FOI request submitted by a former Brig writer, stating that: “The University of Stirling does not formally record the reason for student deaths and therefore does not hold information on the number of suicides.”
In response to the apparent conflict in information given by the University’s FOI department, a spokesperson said on January 10 of this year: “The University began formally recording the reason for student deaths on its Student Management System in November 2017. “This has since encompassed the inclusion of historical records where data has become available.”
However, a week later on January 17, another spokesperson said: “In academic year 2018/2019, in order to assist with the development of our mental health support for students, we took a sector leading decision to systematically and formally record student deaths, by suicide, on our Student Management System.
Hence the University have given out conflicting or wrong information about when they formally began recording suicide statistics.
A number of students have also been misinformed by University management. In the spring semester of last year, several students organised a protest which targeted an Applicant Day at the university, where prospective students were invited to tour the campus and speak to lecturers and staff.
The protesters included ex-Stirling Labour candidate Mary Kate Ross and the Student Union’s housing officer, Cian Ireland.
The protest, which took place in April 2019, saw students gather at the main entrance to the University and around campus to hand out leaflets to potential applicants, and discuss the state of mental health services.
Anonymous testimonies from student and staff in relation to negative experiences with mental health at the university were also handed out. Despite claims of the university “taking down” some of their posters, the protest came to a premature end after senior officials engaged in “a productive dialogue” with some of the protesters.
However, it now appears that the protesters were misinformed by University staff. The protesters claim that they were told by Jill Stevenson, the Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, that no statistics were available at the time. But in recent correspondence with Brig Newspaper, it has become apparent that since November 2017, around a year and a half earlier, figures have been recorded on the Student Management System.
Learning of the revelations, Ireland said:
“Well they’ve misinformed me then. My opinion is if the uni spokesperson said that they were collecting data in 2017, it’s a disgrace that we were misled.
“If they only started collecting data in 2019 as I was told then it’s also a disgrace as it should not have taken that long for them to be collecting such important data.
“It’s all incredibly unprofessional.”
The University’s deputy secretary Joanna Morrow originally said that there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding to do with the wording that was used in good faith in the FOI response that we collated into an official record.
“At some point in the last academic year, we agreed that we should hold that information.”
After the contradictory statements issued a week apart by the University were brought to deputy secretary Morrow’s attention, she was asked which one of the statements, if either, were true and why staff had given false information to both students and the press.
She replied: “The statement issued on Jan 17 2020 reflects the accurate position on the recording of student death by suicide.”
The staff member who issued the original statement of January 10, was incorrect, according to Morrow.
This follows revelations of miscommunication between staff from different departments. Jill Stevenson commented on matters that were not under her remit on the Applicant Day protest.
Morrow said: “When Jill was discussing with the students at the protest, she wasn’t doing it on the basis of something that her own team does.”
Although it is unclear as to how and why mistakes have continually been made in regard to University communications, the fact remains that last year’s spike in student suicide rates will remain a primary concern for everyone involved.
If you are struggling and in need of help, contact Samaritans on 116 123 for free, or visit www.samaritans.org
Stirling Nightline is also available to all students from 10pm till 7am during semester time by calling 01786 466866.