Centre for Death & Society

Supporting bereaved university students


Principal Investigators: John Troyer and Kate Woodthorpe

Researcher Christine Valentine

Funder: UoB Student Services


Project rationale and aims

No research has considered how UK universities support students bereaved during or just before starting their studies, though newspaper coverage has identified failings in university support for bereaved students. Yet, bereavement is acknowledged to be highly stressful, with mental, emotional, physical, social, practical and financial impacts. It is therefore widely accepted that bereaved people need time and support to recover yet we know little about support for bereaved students in the UK who typically live away from home, while being in-between full adulthood and adolescence. Previous research in the US has shown how bereavement when studying can negatively affect concentration, learning, motivation and self-confidence (Balk, 2001), but can also promote growth and maturity (Balk 1996). The study has three parts:

1.    Mapping the current situation as represented by University outward facing website information - completed: given the lack of existing research a scoping study was undertaken to examine information on bereavement that can be accessed from UK Universities’ outward facing websites. Based on a sample of 90 universities (excluding colleges), just over 75% of UK universities, we found a mixed picture of both information related to bereavement support and access to this information. The information itself and user-friendliness of websites varied considerably. The picture that emerged was of a relatively small number of universities providing links to in-house bereavement resources, many universities relying on links to outside resources and a few with no mention of bereavement on their websites. These findings and what we know from the US literature will inform parts 2 and 3 of the research, as follows:

2.    Supporting bereaved students at the University of Bath – ongoing: This part of the study will interview up to 6 students having experienced bereavement while studying at the UoB and conduct 2 focus groups with staff involved in supporting bereaved students, including those tasked with upholding university protocols/standards, e.g. HR staff, personal tutors, heads of department etc. Obtaining both sides of the picture will inform some in-house guidelines and staff training designed to balance the needs of bereaved students with the demands of the university system. This study will also form a pilot for part 3 of the research, as follows:

3.    How universities support students bereaved during or just before starting their studies – under consideration for BA funding: From the scoping study we propose to identify 4 universities with varying practice to undertake in-depth case-studies involving interviews with bereaved students and focus groups with relevant staff as in part 3. The findings will inform national best practice guidelines.

Project outputs and impacts

•    Article ‘Supporting bereaved students at University: balancing institutional standards and reputation alongside individual compassion and care’ submitted to and being peer reviewed by the Death Studies Journal.
•    Practitioner article for the Cruse journal, ‘Bereavement Care’.
•    Article for the Times Higher Education (THE) Journal.
•    Article for the UoB’s Institute for Policy Analysis (IPR) blog
•    In-house UoB guidelines for staff on supporting bereaved students – to be developed from data collected for part 2 of the study.
•    Staff training session - to be developed from data collected for part 2 of the study.
•    National guidelines – to be developed from data collected for part 3 of the study.

Find out more about this project

Name: Dr Christine Valentine
Title: Research Associate (CW) (FH)
Department: Dept for Health
E-mail: c.a.valentine@bath.ac.uk