Derbyshire student took own life after university struggles

A Derbyshire maths student took his own life after withdrawing from his university studies and failing to hand in work.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 11:29 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 10:36 am

Raees Rauf, aged 22, started studying at Bristol University in 2016.

He had to withdraw from the university at the end of his second year, in 2018, having not taken the necessary exams.

In September 2018, Mr Rauf travelled to his family home in Newton, near Bolsover, where he ended his life with a shotgun.

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Bristol University.

At an inquest, Mr Rauf's family raised concerns about the way the universit handled their son and his problems.

The university said that it made numerous attempts to reach out to Mr Rauf when his attendance dropped off.

Abdul Kamboh, Mr Rauf's father, described him as a "quiet boy" who had always been the "vulnerable child" in the family.

He said his son was the type of person to say he was fine, even when he was not.

He said he believed that other students like his son would come to the university and find themselves without adequate support.

Derby Coroner's Court was told Mr Rauf had been struggling to manage his studies since joining the university.

Dr Isaac Chenchiah, his personal tutor, said his student attended a small number of weekly tutorials at the beginning of his first year.

After a couple of weeks, he said Mr Rauf's attendance dropped and he stopped handing in any homework.

Dr Chenchiah said attendance at tutorials and handing in homework were not mandatory requirements.

In November, the lecturer sent an email to Mr Rauf after he repeatedly failed to attend meetings, asked if he needed any support but Mr Rauf did not respond.

The inquest was told Mr Rauf failed his exams in first year and had to resit them in the summer.

Although he successfully continued into his second year, the inquest was told Mr Rauf continued to miss tutorials and did not communicate with the university.

Despite a continued absence, Dr Chenchiah said it "wasn't unusual" behaviour and he had "no reason to be concerned" at that point.

In 2018, Mr Rauf was required to withdraw from the university after he failed to attend any of his scheduled exams for that year.

A few months later, he took his own life.

When asked by Mr Kamboh if he would do anything differently in hindsight, Dr Chenchiah said he would not.

He said pushing "shy and introverted" students to communicate can be counter-productive and taking a step back "gives students freedom".

Mr Kamboh said: "What you're saying is you will never do anything differently, my son is dead, there's nothing I can do about that.

"But if there's another Raees, that person will commit suicide, I'm not trying to get Raees back and I'm not trying to blame, but what you lot are saying is that nothing has changed."

Roman Schubert, senior mathematics lecturer, said the policy for dealing with students like Mr Rauf often led to "a kind of dead end".

He said they arrive at a situation "where we think the student is struggling, but we have no means to push it further."

Dr Schubert told the inquest that non-mandatory attendance and homework made it difficult to monitor students' wellbeing.

He said changes had been made, which included "more relaxed conditions" for when the institution can contact a student's next of kin if they believe they are struggling.

Dr Schubert also said the university had introduced regular assessed assignments for first and second-year students to monitor their progress.

He said: "In my personal experience, using assessed homework is a better way of checking on students who are not attending."

Included in the changes was the introduction of student wellbeing advisors into university departments.

Although the changes had been put in place, the inquest was told attendance continued to be unmonitored.

A university spokesman said: "Our thoughts and sympathies are with Raees’ family and friends.

"Staff from the mathematics school reached out to Raees on multiple occasions throughout the year after he stopped attending classes and exams.

"He was offered the opportunity to explain his absences several times, and was also given advice on numerous occasions about the support and help available to him.

"As Raees did not attend most of his exams during second year, and after several more attempts to engage him, we were unfortunately left with no option than to advise him that he would be withdrawn from his degree programme, and he left Bristol in June 2018."

The university said that it introduced student wellbeing advisers from 2018 to identify and offer support at an earlier stage to any students who may be struggling academically, including those who are withdrawing from their studies.

Emma Serrano, assistant coroner, said her concern "is that by not having mandatory tutorials, there is that risk that students like Raees will continue to be missed".

In her closing statement, Ms Serrano said she remained concerned about the university’s policy regarding none attendance.

She said: "It is impossible for me to say whether the policies are adequate but in relation to Raees and future risk, my worry is that without that mechanism of measuring you are potentially missing those students like Raees."

Ms Serrano said she would be compiling a report on preventing future deaths which would be sent to the university.

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