4 proven ways to combat Student Support caseload overload

Posted by Tribal Group

These days, more than 1 in 4 students will disclose a mental health problem of one type or another to their university - and encouragingly, they are increasingly seeking help and support. However, this means the internal pressure on university support services has never been higher, with many systems collapsing due to caseload overload.”
Lee Rawlinson, Director of Institutional Research at Student Ventures


According to the State of the Nation Report published earlier this year to shine a light on the extent of the mental health crisis in Higher Education, more than 1 in 4 students now disclose a mental health condition to their university – a 7x increase in the last 10 years.  Of those students, 77% have depression and anxiety related problems.

The report also indicated that not all the students that require support are requesting it. Despite this, universities cannot keep pace with the unsustainable growth in the number of students disclosing issues and accessing mental health support services. This means that:

  • Student-to-counsellor ratios are typically three-to-four times lower than what may be required, according to the HEPI paper,
  • A report from HEPI calls out that many universities need to triple their spending on mental health support to meet demand, and
  • According to a UCU report, the HE workforce is in crisis, with two-thirds of university staff considering leaving the sector due to workload, among other factors.

State of the Nation image Mental Health


Caseload overload and gaps in service

As a direct result of the caseload overload, studies reveal that students are increasingly turning to academics, rather than the university’s dedicated support teams, for help. A detailed report into The Role and Experiences of Academics summarises the inherent risk this trend poses:

Gaps in service provision are placing academics in situations that leave them holding substantive risk. Academics must be able to signpost students to a service where they will receive the support they need and where the service will be flexible enough to respond to the needs of different students.”


The report goes on to highlight that responding to student mental health problems is now an “inevitable part of the academic role”, but that academics believe their roles and responsibilities in relation to mental health:

  • Are ambiguous and lack clarity, leading to weak and uncertain boundaries and increased risk to students, staff and universities,
  • Result in workload and time pressures that are invisible to management,
  • Leave them feeling unprepared and unsupported due to a lack of necessary structures, cultural change and training, and
  • Have a substantive, negative impact on their own wellbeing

Moreover, the report reveals that:

The relationship between academics and Student Services seems, at best, problematic... creating gaps into which students can fall and through which bad practice can arise.”


And where students fall through the gaps, and feel unsupported, they are at higher risk of dropping out of university – or worse. The key to closing the gaps between departments is facilitating safe information sharing between teams. To do this, HEIs need to invest in tools that enable more effective university-wide collaboration while making accurate and complete student data available securely, and in real-time, to those who need to see it.


Closing the gaps and supporting every student

Perhaps one of the easiest things to get right with the help of software, and a critical part of improving support services of all kinds, is to ensure that data capture processes:

  • Comply with GDPR and that all data is stored securely and safely,
  • Detail student support needs at recruitment/enrolment stage,
  • Store data centrally to enable effective monitoring and granular reporting,
  • Allow for effective categorisation of information to generate actionable insights,
  • Seamlessly (and securely) enable data sharing across departments with role-based permissions according to data sensitivity, and crucially
  • Capture the effort involved in mental health cases to fully understand the demand for services and inform workload planning.

The data reporting gains to be made from this approach could also inform the university’s mental health and wellbeing support strategy and guide investment, by providing better data about which services are needed when, in time to make a difference.

As mental health support requests are just one in a wide range of general support requests, to give the institution the best possible opportunity to manage increased caseloads, streamline the delivery of targeted support, and optimise support resources. To achive this, universities are now implementing dedicated, cloud-native, omni-channel solutions, like Tribal’s best of breed Student Support & Wellbeing CRM to:

1) Implement best practice enquiry and caseload management

  • Allowing all forms of student support to be managed centrally with built-in best practice case management that can handle even the most complex of cases, enables multiple departmental resources to be assigned and managed through to case resolution.
  •  Automatically route cases, defined by type, to the appropriate team to deliver services faster and mitigate frustration and confusion. Build standard workflows to process cases more consistently, efficiently, and securely.

2) Embed and promote clear processes for requesting support

  • Promoting wellbeing throughout the university community will help to put mental health on everyone’s agenda and signpost people to the range of initiatives and support available via the institution.
  • Use email automation, event management, segmentation and notifications to promote capabilities effectively and make sure students know where to go. 
  • Provide students with multiple contact channels and an on-demand way to book an appointment and exchange information in a secure and safe environment.
  • Involving parents in the conversation by providing a safe, secure and systemised way to share their concerns or feedback is also increasingly important.

3) Provide a responsive and engaging self-service

  • Ensuring all your self-service resources are available via multiple channels and can be accessed anytime on any device is the most efficient way to support students’ mental wellbeing and assist them in developing resilience and self-management techniques.
  • Help students find answers to basic questions by leveraging your knowledge base across your institution.
  • Surface relevant content based on context signals so that students find the right information quickly.
  • Provide live, real-time, or automated chat so students can get their questions answered and find appropriate resources quickly.

4) Facilitate peer support via safe networking

  • Facilitate inclusion, collaboration, and community with a private, university-wide social network designed to enable like-minded students to safely connect with each other.
  • Create a responsive, accessible and engaging student portal and build a community with discussion-based functionality including forums and blogs.

Utilising Tribal’s solution, universities across the UK are managing caseloads more effectively, they are implementing the four best practices outlined in this blog, and being proactive with their data, rather than reactive. By providing a 360 degree, holistic view of each and every student from a central record, the solution reports data, insights and notifications to the correct teams to ensure an appropriate, fast multi-departmental response to even the most complex of cases – in time to make a difference to student outcomes.

Stay tuned to our next blog in this series, where we’ll be taking a closer look at how universities can enable self-service and peer-to-peer support using Tribal’s dedicated Student Support & Wellbeing solution to help alleviate the caseload overload.


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