Northumbria University in the North East of England is set to take the radical step of using data collected from students' social media accounts in a bid to reduce climbing student suicide rates. The higher educational institution, located in Newcastle upon Tyne, will create an Early Alert Tool to offer aid to undergrads in crisis.
Northumbria University is working in partnership with nine other organizations on the project, which was awarded funding by the Office for Students (OfS) today. A total of £14.5 million ($18.4m) has been put aside by OfS, £6 million of which will go to the social media scanning project, with another £8.5 million going to nine other collaborative projects.
The university already analyses student data to flag potential mental health issues, such as patterns in grades, lecture attendance records, library usage, and how often students log on to virtual learning environments. However, the new funding will allow researchers to mine new data sources, such as social media usage.
A press release issued by OfS said that only one in three people who die by suicide are known to mental health services in the UK. By developing and testing additional data points, OfS aims to help students in difficulty more effectively.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: "Whenever I talk to students, improving mental health support is consistently raised as a priority. Taking preventative action to promote good mental health is critical, as is taking a whole institution approach and involving students in developing solutions."
She added that OfS would be reviewing the progress of each project through a comprehensive evaluation strategy to understand effective practice, and will be sharing the outcomes widely so that students everywhere can benefit from the work being done.
Few details were given about what information exactly would be mined from students' social media accounts. The project will raise concerns about the invasion of privacy, but these issues could be eased somewhat by an opt-in policy that requires students to consent to being apart of the program.
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