I had an incredible opportunity last week, which gave me the chance to mingle with the Uni top dogs. Doesn’t mean I agreed with everything they said though..
It was an honour to chair the first University of Bristol Question Time event last week – especially as I managed to get through the event without falling off my chair, something Epigram’s Deputy Editors were convinced I was going to do.
The event raised a number of issues, from junior doctor contracts, to the price of accommodation, to drug use at Bristol. The aim was to start a constructive conversation between students, the University and the Students’ Union; this was certainly achieved.
Indeed, it was especially positive that the panelists were willing to stay and have further discussions with students after the event, demonstrating that they really are committed to listening to our ideas.
The issue here doesn’t lie in the quality of the actual service being provided, but the waiting time, which is caused by a lack of funding and resources.
One issue I found particularly interesting, and I think deserves greater attention, was the discussion surrounding mental health provision.
Student Minds have estimated that 27% of students experience ‘mental distress’, but that university counselling services across Britain only have the facilities to support 7-10% of students with a mental illness.
I don’t know the statistics for Bristol Counselling service, but I know several people who have had to wait months to be seen. The issue here doesn’t lie in the quality of the actual service being provided, but the waiting time, which is caused by a lack of funding and resources.
The University has many difficult decisions to make regarding allocation of resources, but mental health, in my opinion, is something worth investing in.
It was therefore disappointing that Professor Hugh Brady made no commitment to increased funding for the Student Counselling Service.
Although he acknowledged the importance of the service, he commented that ‘the world we live in is one where we have to have cuts to higher education. We almost certainly have less money to play with, and we will have to make difficult cuts.’
His colleagues on the panel, Guy Orpen and Kelly Moule, had similar opinions. It was clear that all three were concerned about student welfare and thought the service was ‘wonderful,’ yet focus was placed on reducing the need for the counselling service.
Guy suggested that he was ‘keen that we avoid the need for counselling,’ while Kelly suggested the need to ‘improve the resilience of students and ease their transition into university.’
This is all, of course, very important; yet it is only one side of the solution.
Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental well-being working group, was quoted in a BBC article in September suggesting that each year, the demand for student counselling services is rising by 10%. There is simply no way that services can keep up without an increase in funding.