Do students receive enough support at the start of university?

The process of applying to university is confusing, convoluted and relentless. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the prospect of eventually ending up there can exist merely as a conceptual haven, the light at the end of a (seemingly ceaseless) tunnel. For all its preparatory steps, Ucas is ironically negligent when it comes to informing us what the ‘being a student at university’ element actually entails.

For me, the notion of going to university had a distinct essence: it was promising, but what it actually meant, I couldn’t put my finger on. Thinking about it now, it’s quite odd that I didn’t think much about what being a student typically involves, given that so much of what happens when moving to university is new. There were things I knew about in abstraction (and from panic-reading Buzzfeed articles) but had failed to prepare for.

Sharing a living space with strangers, having very little in the way of scheduled work, managing a tight budget – all were challenging in their own way. Perhaps most significant, however, was the way in which all these elements, manageable in isolation, amassed to create an ever-increasing sense of responsibility.

Not that responsibility is bad – rather, it’s the rapidity at which it is suddenly thrust upon students that can be so daunting. It is easy to conflate the weight of responsibility with independence, the former forming an essential part of achieving the latter – but this is where the issue lies.

This week, The Times reported that mental health issues amongst students have increased five-fold over the last decade, with a staggering 48 per cent of these cases going unreported to universities.

Of course, there are various reasons for this, but I cannot help but feel that it must be attributed – at least in part – to an increasing pressure on students who are not offered a tangible support network – a space in which they can ask for support, or simply to say they are struggling.

I now realise that there is, in fact, so much support available at Edinburgh – services that may be invaluable in navigating the maze that the first few weeks of university becomes.

Nightline, a helpline based in Scotland, is run especially for students that are in need of a judgement free ear. The Advice Place, based in Potterrow and at King’s Buildings, but also operating online, can offer more specific advice on a number of issues, from advice about extra funding or finances, to help with accommodation and academic issues – things about which we don’t always have an inherent knowledge, but are often expected to.

Perhaps, then, it is not that the facilities to make the transition easier don’t exist, but that universities are generally not paying enough attention to the welfare of their students. To do so, they need to make student support services ubiquitous, as integral a part of university as a lecture timetable.

If I had have known about services like the Advice Place earlier, my memories of first year would, I’m sure, be much less of a confused blur. It’s important to eradicate the notion that anyone is undeserving of help.  If you feel like you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the support that is available. First year is simultaneously exciting and terrifying, but there are ways to ease the weight of responsibility that is sometimes overbearing.

Feeling burdened with unmanageable amounts of responsibility isn’t – and shouldn’t be – part of being a student; it’s a shame this message is so rarely conveyed by universities.

At Edinburgh, you can contact Nightline or visit the Advice Place for general support.

If you feel you need more than this, you can apply for free counselling at the university online.

For more information, please visit www.eusa.ed.uk/advice.

Image: Boon Low via Creative Commons

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The Student Newspaper 2016