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De Montfort University: a 21st-century global university

In 2016, De Montfort University found itself facing funding reductions that affected the support they could provide to students; at the same time, there was an increase of around a third in demand for counselling services from students who were autistic or had mental health problems.

Always looking to innovate and to develop new solutions to problems where conventional wisdom failed to deliver results, DMU introduced a broad programme of support including increased contact with students and their families before they come to university, a residential induction visit, ongoing autism awareness training for staff, and a large-scale adoption of Brain in Hand digital technology to help them reach more students more effectively.

The impetus to implement Brain in Hand came when DMU noticed the benefits for one student who was using the system via their Disabled Students' Allowance. The university embarked on an implementation programme during which staff were trained, suitable students identified, and monitoring and response services established before students were approached about using Brain in Hand. At the same time, DMU expanded their offer of specialist mentors for supporting autistic students, which meant a wider pool of staff members available to set up new students on BiH and support them to use it.

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Watch the BBC report on DMU's use of Brain in Hand, including student interviews

Students were then set up on Brain in Hand; each new user was helped to populate their account with personal information as well as wider university resources and signposting. They received one-to-one appointments to review their use of the system and add new coping strategies as needed, and after three to six months the university was able to assess Brain in Hand data to see how many students were using the system, analyse trends and common issues, and reallocate system licences to new users where someone no longer wanted to use it.

As a result of the big-picture analysis that Brain in Hand facilitated, DMU were able to adjust their timetable of drop-in support sessions to better meet the needs of students at times when they were more likely to need help.

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De Montfort had anticipated that there could be increased demand for contact from students pressing the red button in their Brain in Hand system, but on average found that they only received one alert per day. It was therefore possible for a single member of staff to personally respond to all alerts, resolving issues before they escalate and signposting students to appropriate services to prevent re-occurrence.

Tina Sharpe, Disability Services Manager, said:

'We’ve adopted Brain in Hand as part of our plan to empower students to manage their learning journey and use this for their future in employment. This cutting-edge technology will help transform our service provision and student satisfaction. This has been a truly successful venture and one which we will continue to develop.'