Report on student deaths on campus (2014–2017)

13 October 2018 | Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Report to Council (October 2018) on student deaths that occurred on campus for the period 2014 to 2017

Executive Summary by the Vice Chancellor

During the reporting period from 2014 to 2017, six student deaths that occurred on campus were reported. All of the deaths were suspected suicides.

All six students were black South African nationals, of whom three were female and three were male. The age range of the students was between 20 and 23 years.

In terms of academic years at UCT per student, only one of the six students was in the first year of study, while the remaining five students had spent between two and four years of study at UCT. In all instances, the deaths were alleged to be from unnatural causes, specifically suspected suicides.

Support to students

A range of additional interventions has been put in place to support students as a way of countering the risk of suicide and attempted suicide. The interventions are summarised below:

  • The provision of mental and medical health care through the Department of Student Affairs’ (DSA) Student Wellness Service (SWS) is aligned with the DSA’s mandate for a Primary Health Care level of service provision to students.
  • To increase student access to services, several outreach services were implemented from 2017 to enable students to have wider access to the services which are located around the university, with the main clinic at Mowbray; outreach service sites on upper, middle, lower and Hiddingh Campuses; and at service nodes located in the faculties of Law, Science and Health Sciences.
  • A 24-hour telephonic counselling service has been provided through the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) since 2016.
  • Since 2016 a psychiatric nursing team has provided emergency mental health support nightly, including over weekends and public holidays, for students living in UCT owned residences.
  • An emergency ambulance service through ER24 is available to assist with students experiencing mental health emergencies over the past few years.
  • Between 2016 and 2018 additional key staff were appointed to increase the support base available to students, through clinical consultations, student advocacy and the promotion of self-help seeking behaviours.
  • The recent Council-approved mental health policy (2018) is being rolled out for implementation by SWS and other key role players.


While many interventions have been put in place for vulnerable students at UCT, understandably this is not sufficient. Enhanced learnings could be gained through a national comparative and descriptive retrospective research case study across the HEI sector to gauge ways in which student deaths through suspected suicide can be overcome, early warning systems can be developed and linkages between key academic / other indicators and student well-being can be brought into focus for any role these may play in negating student’s well-being and risk status.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Read the full report.

Read more about UCT's mental health services.

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