Student newspapers in favour of ‘Harry’s Law’


YUSU supports student newspaper campaign in favour of 'Harry's Law'

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Image by Exeposé

By Gracie Daw

Content warning: this article discusses suicide

21 Student newspapers from across the UK have joined together to campaign in favour of Harry’s Law. This is a series of proposed changes which would obligate coroners to inform universities upon registering the death of an enrolled student as suicide. Additionally, the proposed changes would require that universities publish the annual suicide rates of enrolled students, and would see the introduction of new powers that would allow the Department of Education to place universities into ‘special measures’ where suicide rates exceed that of the national average.

The changes are named after 21-year-old Harry Armstrong Evans, who took his own life whilst studying at Exeter University in June 2021. The subsequent coroner’s report found that the University of Exeter failed to uphold safeguarding obligations and failed to help Harry during a period of poor academic performance and acute mental health crisis.

Alice Armstrong Evans, one of Harry’s parents, has said that "Universities have consistently placed their own commercial interests above that of your mental wellbeing. They gloss over the pandemic of suicide that continues to be hushed up on campuses up and down the country. Harry's Law will force universities to be open and transparent about their suicide statistics, so that current and prospective students and families can hold them to account, and make informed choices about whether that institution is, as it should be, a safe and nurturing environment."

The idea behind the proposed changes is that they would allow students and parents to understand wellbeing support available at universities when making the decision about which institution to attend. Harry’s parents, Alice and Rupert Armstrong Evans, tried to seek information from the University of Exeter about student suicides after their son’s death, but despite sending in a Freedom of Information request, they were unable to access the information they sought because it was not held.

Speaking to Exeposé, the University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Rupert said “If you don’t have the information then you don’t have to hold up your hands and say there’s a problem. You just say we don’t know. We have no information on that — end of story. Whereas if you have the number of people who’ve taken their lives published on your website, and which faculty they belong to, you can be absolutely sure that pastoral services and standards will have to improve… At the moment, it’s a race to the bottom, not a race to the top. There is no incentive.”

YUSU has since supported the campaign for 'Harry's Law', with Union President, Pierrick Roger telling Nouse that "It is a great shame that the data this petition is trying to obtain is not already public. Universities have a duty of care to their students and we need to be able to spot trends as and when they happen. It is imperative that they open themselves up to scrutiny when it comes to such a grave issue and keep themselves accountable to the student body, government and general public."

Nouse supports the proposed changes and urges readers to sign the parliamentary petition in favour of the changes. The petition will remain open until 8 May 2023. It requires 10,000 signatures for a government response and 100,000 for a parliamentary debate.

The petition can be found here.

Nouse has approached the University of Exeter for comment.