The Duchess of Cambridge has learned about life for University of Derby students living under coronavirus restrictions – and watched a women’s football team.
During her visit Kate quizzed students about not being able to attend lectures, how they have felt during the pandemic and was told they had “kept busy” during lockdown.
A surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has led to thousands of students having to self-isolate in their halls at universities across the country, with some hanging signs out their windows saying they did not have food.
The duchess watched the female footballers as they trained, and in a socially distanced circle chatted to students who told her about the importance of sport for their mental wellbeing.
Kate added: “Particularly when it’s outdoors as it hasn’t got any restrictions to it.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that undergraduates being “trapped in halls” could exacerbate mental health issues for the thousands who have begun their degree studies.
More than 50 universities in the UK have confirmed cases of coronavirus as students return to campus, with students self-isolating at Manchester Metropolitan and Glasgow University.
Continuing her discussions with the students on the sports field, the duchess asked: “Is it really weird not being in lectures?”
One student said they were enjoying the change, but added it was “difficult not learning face to face”.
“You’re doing very well,” Kate replied.
She went on to tell the students she “loved” how mental health work had been “integrated” into university life in Derby.
The duchess’s visit on Tuesday came as Universities UK, which represents 139 institutions including the University of Derby, published a new checklist to help universities support student wellbeing during the autumn term.
Universities should ensure that students have access to basic necessities during self-isolation, including food, laundry services, cleaning materials, bin bags, tissues and toilet rolls, the guide says.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to get university students back to their families for Christmas despite warnings that rates of infection in young adults are climbing steeply.
The duchess’s visit to the university’s main Kedleston Road site tied in with World Mental Health Day on Saturday.
When she first arrived wearing a mask, she was briefed by Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, on the national picture and held a discussion in a socially distanced circle.
Kate asked representatives of Student Minds if there had been an “increase in awareness” among students of mental health help – and asked if it had been “integrated” into their education.
She then donned her face mask again as she walked through the main lobby to speak to students about how they have felt during the pandemic.
Husna Hanif and Laura Oliver, both 18, told the duchess they had “kept busy” during lockdown – adding that it was “hard not seeing friends”.
She asked the pair if there was enough support at the university – to which Ms Oliver replied: “There’s so much support.”
“That’s great to hear,” Kate said.
The duchess also heard about Student Minds’ Student Space initiative, a new resource created to support students during the pandemic, which offers information and direct help by phone and text.
The 24/7 text service using trained volunteers is delivered in partnership with Shout, an initiative from the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together mental health campaign.
Kate was told that nursing students have been buddied up with fellow students in the year above to provide them with peer support during challenging clinical placements, and that the university has trained its sports societies to enable students to support their teammates’ mental health.
The duchess received a gift bag from the university on her departure and was thanked for “making mental health a priority”.