A learning development-faculty collaborative exploration of postgraduate research student mental health in a UK university

  • Russell Delderfield University of Bradford http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5714-2497
  • Mathias Ndoma-Egba University of Bradford
  • Kirsten Riches-Suman University of Bradford
  • James Boyne University of Huddersfield


Mental ill-health is an escalating problem in higher education. Not only does this impact students’ ability to learn, it can lead to poor completion, with learners opting to withdraw from studies, even if attainment has been satisfactory. The aim of this study was to gain insight about perceptions of poor mental health from postgraduate research students in a diverse UK university and canvas opinion regarding how the University could improve this. A short, pragmatic survey with basic quantitative and qualitative responses was distributed. This was analysed by a team comprising the learning developer responsible for postgraduate researcher learning development, academics and a doctoral student. The study found that poor mental health was evident, with over three quarters of respondents reporting some experience of mental ill-health. We identified five areas in need of attention: University Systems, Supervisor Training, Well-being Monitoring, Building Networks, and Finance. Sources of University-based stress were finance, administrative support, and an environment where a perception that poor mental health was an expectation rather than a problem was experienced. Students preferred to access support outside the academic environment. This is the first study of its kind at a diverse, plate-glass UK university, to consider research student mental ill-health, with a staff-student team working with data, and the learning developer spear-heading changes across postgraduate research. These findings have already influenced university strategy, staff training, and induction practices. The synthesis of the five areas could be used to visualise where further work is needed to improve mental health in these learners.

Author Biographies

Russell Delderfield, University of Bradford

Dr Russell Delderfield

Postgraduate Research Development

Academic Skills Advice


Mathias Ndoma-Egba, University of Bradford

PhD Candidate

Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences

Kirsten Riches-Suman, University of Bradford

Lecturer in BIomedical Science

School of Chemistry and Bioscience

James Boyne, University of Huddersfield


Department of Biological and Geographical Sciences

How to Cite
Delderfield, R., Ndoma-Egba, M., Riches-Suman, K. and Boyne, J. (2020) “A learning development-faculty collaborative exploration of postgraduate research student mental health in a UK university”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. Plymouth, UK, (18). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi18.571.