Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Derek Harper

Universities call for extra funding for mental health services during the pandemic

With new figures showing uptake of a scheme launched by the higher education regulator, universities are calling on the government to provide more funding for their student mental health services. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to overstretched student services, with demand for the services increasing fourfold. In June 2020, the Office for Students (OfS) announced a £3 million online platform, Student Space, designed to provide high quality mental health support for students who are struggling with the pandemic, with the website promising “immediate help for students in distress” in England and Wales. 

The website aims to support students through text support, phone counselling and guided cognitive behavioural therapy. However, official data from the OfS shows that from August to 6 December, only 398 students used the one-to-one service. This is in contrast to about 25,000 students a month who have had support from their own university mental health services. 

Levi Pay, a higher education consultant who reviews mental health services, suggested that it is going to be hard for the new service to connect with students, calling the number of students using the online platform “pretty dismal”. 

“If you want to invest in student mental health during the pandemic it seems obvious to me that you should bolster the services students are already turning to, rather than creating a new service from scratch.”   

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have announced new funding to bolster university health services, and this has led to an outcry from universities in England who express their anger about not being provided increased funding for their own services. 

If you want to invest in student mental health during the pandemic it seems obvious to me that you should bolster the services students are already turning to, rather than creating a new service from scratch

– Levi Pay, higher education consultant

Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, said: “My simple ask to the minister is to match the funding that institutions in the devolved administrations are receiving.”

The vice-chancellor added that universities are expecting to experience worse rates of mental health between the months of January and April, when there is a usual increase in self-harm and suicide in the UK. 

Despite being proud of the online platform, Student Minds, the charity that runs Student Space, agrees that there needs to be increased funding in specialist services for students at their universities. 

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