Petition for a legal duty of care in higher education reaches its target

By Niamh Flanagan

The LEARN Network petition to have a legal duty of care implemented in higher education passed 100,000 signatures earlier this month, meaning it will be debated publicly in parliament.

The petition of The LEARN Network to have a legal duty of care implemented in higher education institutions reached its goal of 100,000 signatures on 15 March 2023, just days before the deadline on 19 March 2023. The LEARN Network are a group of bereaved families who have all lost loved ones to suicide whilst they were studying at university. In October 2022, the group launched a petition calling for the government to implement a legal duty of care between higher education providers and their students, after the ruling of Abrahart v University of Bristol found that such a duty of care doesn’t exist in common law. In January of this year, after having reached 10,000 signatures, the Department of Education responded to the petition and commented that a duty of care already exists in higher education, and as such the implementation of further legislation would be disproportionate. 

Following the government response, Robert Abrahart, father of Natasha Abrahart who died by suicide at the University of Bristol in 2018, commented that: “The Government’s response appears to be an attempt at ducking the issue, and it does nothing to inform the debate about how the universities should keep students safe.” The LEARN Network launched the #ForThe100 campaign, named after the estimated 100 lives lost to suicide at UK universities each year, on Twitter in the run up to the petition deadline to urge more people to sign. 

Now that 100,000 signatures have been reached, The LEARN Network are awaiting confirmation of a date for the petition to be publicly debated in parliament. The organisation has issued a statement of thanks to those who supported the petition: “The LEARN Network would like to express our sincere thanks to all 100,000+ signatories to this petition – you understood how vital this change is for the future of our students. We are overwhelmed by your collective voice. Our hearts go out to those families who shared tragic stories in which difficulties were sometimes overcome but far too many left bereaved. We have just witnessed a wave of compassion from the public – recognition that a more compassionate culture is needed in Higher Education (HE) and that a legal duty of care is at its foundation.”

Lee Fryatt, author of the petition, who lost his son Daniel to suicide, explained why he feels his son’s death could have been prevented had their been a duty of care in place at his university: “Where universities have some measure of control, for example, dismissal, fitness to study, extenuating circumstances and failed exams, they must take reasonable steps to protect the student. Consideration of the impact on the mental health of the student should be at the core of all decision making and so should a legal duty of care.”


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