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University of Edinburgh to invest £140k in counselling services

The University of Edinburgh will invest an additional £140,000 into the Student Counselling Service over the next two years, The Student can reveal.

The funding will be used to pay for additional counsellors, increasing the capacity to meet growing demand for services from the student body.

Ronnie Millar, Director of the Student Counselling Service, said: “Resources for the Student Counselling Service have increased every year for the past five years, and our investment has more than doubled in that period, with extra funding put in place already this year that allows us to employ additional counsellors.

He continued: “The University has also invested in making more space available for counselling – both last year and again this year – developing our premises at the Holyrood campus. Now, with this latest investment, there is the prospect of more counsellors joining the staff next year.”

The university counselling service has faced great strain in recent years, becoming severely oversubscribed and receiving over one hundred referrals every week. There has been a 45 per cent increase in demand in the last year alone. The increase has meant that the service struggles to accommodate everyone, and students may have to wait as long as seven weeks to begin counselling sessions, which have been capped at just four sessions each, with the exception of “at risk” students who will receive six.

A petition asking the University to increase funding to the counselling service has amassed over 500 signatures and 180 comments. The petition, entitled “Edinburgh University: Fund The Counselling Service” and created by EUSA Trustee Esther Dominy, states: “Students whose mental health is suffering cannot access the help they need at the time they need it, often having to wait weeks in crisis before counselling is available.

“We don’t think this is good enough. At the moment, resources for the Counselling Service fall far short of what is necessary; we believe the University must take responsibility for the welfare of its students, and a fully resourced Counselling Service is essential to ensure students are supported while they study.”

Mariam Berrada signed the petition, saying: “The university seems unable to grasp the concept that for a student to take the step to request counselling, they have most-likely gotten to an extremely low point in their lives. An additional 7 week waiting time is nonsensical and counterproductive to them and the success of the university.”

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote: “The extreme waiting time prevented me from getting the help I desperately needed, when I needed it the most. I was offered counselling over 7 weeks later, after having suffered alone for an extended time and my academic work being severely impacted. Even 6 weeks is far too long – it should be no more than 3 at most. 7 is completely unacceptable.”

Speaking to The Student, creator of the petition and EUSA Trustee Esther Dominy explained why increasing funding for the service was so important for student welfare. “The decision was recently taken to reduce the number of counselling sessions available to students in order to bring down high waiting times; currently at around seven weeks, nearly two months,” Dominy said. “A lot of people were unhappy about that decision, so the petition was started both to raise awareness of the problem and to demonstrate the huge student interest in it.”

“The petition is at 500 signatures and counting, which is exactly what we wanted to show – counselling is not something the University can continue to neglect; it’s something that concerns every student at this University and the Counselling Service should be there to support every one of us that needs to access it,” she told The Student.

Dominy expressed her happiness with the university’s decision to increase funding to the counselling service, but said there was work still to be done. “That’s brilliant news. I’m not quick to say it solves the problem, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction and hopefully a sign that the University is prepared to treat the Counselling Service as a priority. This, and the changes won by disabled students who spoke out about their treatment by the University, are such great examples of the change students can make,” she told The Student.

However, figures obtained by disabilities rights organisation Black Triangle Society and analysed by The Student show that the further £140,000 funding increase over the next two years will not enough to meet the increased demand. In the current academic year 2015-2016, the counselling service’s funding was £857,000, a fifty three thousand pound increase on the previous year. For the counselling service surplus to meet the increased demand, the figure would need to be closer to £385,000, over twice the amount pledged by the university.

The analysis also showed that though the numbers represent an increase of £70,000 a year, they fell below the average annual increase over the past 5 years.

A press release from The University of Edinburgh provided to The Student said: “Investment is being been made as the number of students seeking support from counselling services across the UK has increased significantly. The University has sought to raise awareness of all its student support services and improve access to them.

“So far this academic year, 90 per cent of students accessing the service have been offered an initial appointment within two weeks of making contact with the university.”

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote, “The extreme waiting time prevented me from getting the help I desperately needed, when I needed it the most. I was offered counselling over 7 weeks later, after having suffered alone for an extended time and my academic work being severely impacted. Even 6 weeks is far too long – it should be no more than 3 at most. 7 is completely unacceptable.”

Speaking to The Student, creator of the petition and EUSA Trustee Esther Dominy explained why increasing funding for the service was so important for student welfare. “The decision was recently taken to reduce the number of counselling sessions available to students in order to bring down high waiting times; currently at around seven weeks, nearly two months,” Dominy said. “A lot of people were unhappy about that decision, so the petition was started both to raise awareness of the problem and to demonstrate the huge student interest in it.”

“The petition is at 500 signatures and counting, which is exactly what we wanted to show – counselling is not something the University can continue to neglect, it’s something that concerns every student at this University and the Counselling Service should be there to support every one of us that needs to access it,” she told The Student.

Dominy expressed her happiness with the university’s decision to increase funding to the counselling service, but claimed that there was work still to be done. “That’s brilliant news. I’m not quick to say it solves the problem, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction and hopefully a sign that the University is prepared to treat the Counselling Service as a priority. This, and the changes won by disabled students who spoke out about their treatment by the University, are such great examples of the change students can make,” she told The Student.

However, figures obtained by disabilities rights organisation Black Triangle Society and analysed by The Student show that the further £140,000 funding increase over the next two years will not enough to meet the increased demand. In the current academic year 2015-2016, the counselling service’s funding was £857,000, a fifty three thousand pound increase on the previous year. For the counselling service surplus to meet the increased demand, the figure would need to be closer to £385,000, over twice the amount pledged by the university.

A press release from The University of Edinburgh offered exclusively to The Student states; “Investment is being been made as the number of students seeking support from counselling services across the UK has increased significantly. The University has sought to raise awareness of all its student support services and improve access to them.”

“So far this academic year, 90 per cent of students accessing the service have been offered an initial appointment within two weeks of making contact.”

Image credit: dun_deagh

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