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What our Student Assistance Programme offers students

3 April 2024

As the first purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) provider to offer a student support service, Unite Students is constantly looking to evolve its student wellbeing offer.

New for 2023/24, our Student Assistance Programme bolsters our provision of round-the-clock support. Here, we outline what the programme includes, how it has benefited our residents, and what we’ve learned since launch.


Why we introduced the Student Assistance Programme

Few things at Unite Students are as important as student wellbeing. Since our student welfare service launched in 2015, student support has become increasingly important in relationships between private PBSA operators and universities. Whether it’s signposting residents to university services to get the support they need, sharing our latest research about the factors that impact on student wellbeing or highlighting concerns about a student’s mental health, a collaborative approach delivers the best wellbeing outcomes for students.

Our frontline teams are well-trained to support students, with our training covering welfare checks, safeguarding, handling disclosures, and supporting students with disabilities. They are supported by our regional student support teams, who can provide expert advice and liaise with university support teams on the most complex cases.

However, our frontline teams are not clinically trained. So, to bolster our own support provision at a time when university and NHS services are under increasing pressure, we rolled out our Student Assistance Programme in October – allowing residents to benefit from clinical support 24/7, 365 days a year.


How the Student Assistance Programme works

The Student Assistance Programme, delivered by Health Assured in partnership with Endsleigh Insurance, was launched following consultation with our university partners.

Through the Programme, our residents can access:

  • A 24/7 student wellbeing helpline

Staffed by clinical professionals, the helpline takes calls about mental health, relationships, finances, legal advice or anything else. A translator can be available within 60 seconds of a call being made, meaning that international students can access supports without any barriers. There are also services to support D/deaf and speech impaired students.

  • The Wisdom mobile app

For students who would prefer not to call the helpline, they can instead access clinical support through the Wisdom app’s livechat function. The app offers plenty of proactive wellbeing support as well, including weekly mood checks, self-help programmes and topical mental health webinars, while its new ‘Safespace’ function also allows users experiencing domestic abuse to hide their browsing history while accessing help. Users can even benefit from themed monthly playlists based on trends and time of year.

  • Free, ongoing access to digital counselling

If deemed clinically appropriate, residents can benefit from ongoing counselling via video calls with professional counsellors from Silver Cloud, or online trauma courses provided by Power to Recover. This can bridge the gap while students wait to access counselling through their university or the NHS.


The Student Assistance Programme connects with our existing student support provision. Residents who call our Emergency Contact Centre are referred to the helpline, when appropriate. And, for residents who consent to sharing their data when they call the helpline, the contact centre will be informed – meaning they can notify the site team, who can then carry out a welfare check or provide signposting to university services.

Becca Hayhurst, Head of Resident Experience, says: “Whilst university and mental health services are still our primary places to signpost, we are now better equipped to respond to crises and able to offer proactive tools and resources to support students whilst they navigate those services.”


What we’ve learned so far – and what’s next

Through anonymised data from the Wisdom app, we’ve found that sleep is a real focus for our residents: in January, as many students were tracking their sleep habits as were counting their steps. This meant we could incorporate a focus on sleep into our student wellbeing spring campaign, something we wouldn’t have done this without insights from the programme.

Another thing we’ve learned is that live chat is students’ preferred way of accessing support. This is maybe to be expected; a common trope about young people is their aversion to phone calls. Research published in October by Sky Mobile showed that almost a third (32%) of Generation Z rarely makes a phone call, with 36% of those surveyed saying they would only make a phone call to locate friends on a night out.

However, there are other benefits to accessing support remotely.

“International students don’t necessarily have a clear understanding of how they can get support – […] they may be scared to ask in case it puts their visa or immigration status at risk, which it wouldn’t. That’s why the app that’s part of our new Student Assistance Programme is so important,” says Ami-Rose Wrack, our Regional Student Support Manager for London. “They can just use the live chat option or send a text to get support. We need more options like that so the student can access support remotely.”

Given the benefits of the programme, continuing to raise resident awareness is a key focus for 2024.

“The Student Assistance Programme have made a difference to both our residents and our staff. Residents have been able to seek professional assistance in moments of need and our staff have felt the benefit of this additional support – knowing that those crisis points don’t have to be handled alone,” says Becca. “I am confident the programme will help us go from strength to strength in understanding and responding to the needs of our residents and empower them to better support themselves.”

Hear more from Becca about our 2023/24 student support programme here, or read our recent interviews with our three Regional Student Support Managers here.

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