Family blame Oxford for student's death

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The Independent Online
The suicide of a brilliant young history student at Oxford University triggered a bitter row yesterday after her family said: "We are compelled to issue a health warning to other parents of potentially vulnerable and sensitive young people - don't send your children to Oxford, it is not safe."

Sarah Napuk, aged 22, a third-year student at Lady Margaret Hall, who had been offered a Kennedy scholarship to Harvard, was found hanged in her room while she was seeking counselling.

Her family maintain that their daughter was "depressed and afraid" of failing her final exams. She had been repeatedly told by her tutors that she would obtain a First Class degree, as she was "one of the best history students at Oxford".

They felt so concerned that they wanted to make an open statement to the inquest into the death, due to open tomorrow. But this was refused by the coroner. Her parents, Kerry and Angela Napuk have now decided not to attend the inquest.

The family had received a letter from one of Ms Napuk's tutors which said: ".... I am wondering whether Oxford puts really inappropriate pressures on our young people and whether the support and sustenance is there to see people through properly? During the past five years, three of my pupils have taken their own lives ..."

The public stance taken by Ms Napuk's parents has stirred a renewed debate about the tremendous pressure put on undergraduates, which is believed to have contributed to an alarming number taking their own lives. The university authorities had carried out an inquiry in l993 which had, it says, strengthened the " safety net" for those who had found it difficult to cope. But Sarah's parents say they found fatal flaws in the system, under which there is no cohesive counselling structure.

Mr Napuk, a 58-year-old company director, told The Independent: "The response we got from the chair of student health, Rev Professor Ernest Nicholson, was inadequate and unsatisfactory. They do not seem to want to accept there is a serious problem."

But Professor Nicholson told The Independent: "We totally refute these claims. We understand Mr and Mrs Napuk are suffering from a lot of grief, but it is not true that the University is somehow neglecting the welfare of the students. "Of course there is tremendous pressure at Oxford. But the huge majority of students manage to cope with that."