A Freedom of Information request submitted by this newspaper has revealed the extent of the serious lack of funding to the Dean of Students Office over the last five years. From the academic year 2010-11 to 2014-15, the amount of funding the service receives from the university has increased by 18.03%, from £1,483,313 to £1,750,793. Throughout this same period, the number of students using the service has increased by 52.2%, from 636 to 968.
An anonymous second year medical student commented on her experiences with accessing mental health support from the Dean of Students Office, stating that “after an initial appointment with a counsellor in May 2015, I didn’t hear anything until June when they finally had a space for counselling sessions but I had gone home by then so it was pointless. I hadn’t heard anything for months so it took me getting in touch again and explaining how I really needed some help to finally get counselling sessions by around November”. She explained that “you get 6 counselling essions overall and to be honest, I didn’t find them helpful until the end when we had to plan what to do next, as we couldn’t continue the sessions… I guess once you’re in the system the Dean of Students is quite helpful but you’ve got to be very proactive. At first though, I felt that they didn’t take me very seriously. I could have been in a really dark place for all they knew but they’d still have stuck me on a waiting list that’s months long”.
The University announced a restructuring of the service in an email to staff over the Easter break. The statement read: “A recent review of the Dean of Students’ Office has led to a plan of proposed changes to the structure and working practices of the division. From August, the Dean of Students Office and Learning and Teaching Service will be combined to form one service providing academic and non-academic support to students. A new name will also be created for DOS, which will be confirmed in the coming months”.
The University described the ongoing issues with the Dean of Students service as “a number of opportunities for improvement”. They also plan to introduce a “new vision statement for mental health in partnership with the Students Union, and in consultation with the University Medical Service and mental health specialists in MED, to clarify expectations around mental health services”. Finally, this restructuring will include the recruitment of a new Head of Wellbeing, who the University state will be a clinically qualified psychologist. “Recruitment for a new Director of Student Services, to lead DOS, will be commencing imminently. Jane Amos will continue in her role as Acting Dean of Students until August”.
In response to our request for comment on this restructuring, Dr Andrea Blanchflower, Director of Learning & Teaching Services, said: “Following the retirement of Dean of Students Dr Annie Grant, we have taken the opportunity to review the structure and services provided by the department and we are working closely with the Students Union to improve service delivery”.
“The university is committed to providing the best possible support to ensure the wellbeing of our students. Identifying improvements to service delivery in response to changing patterns of demand have been at the heart of the review”.“The Dean of Students’ Office is likely to be re-named the Student Support Service and the building re-named the Student Support Centre. A Director of Student Services will be appointed to lead the department and the recruitment process is underway”.
The outgoing president of the confidential student-run listening service, Nightline, Sean Harbottle, spoke to Concrete about his concerns over mental health support on campus. “I feel that sometimes people only talk about supporting mental health as opposed to putting it into action. The SU’s “Don’t drop out, drop in” advice campaign is a good start, and Nightline and the SU Advice centre have begun a working partnership that can help a lot of students in those immediate crises where booking a counselling appointment far in advance may not be adequate”.
“However, Nightline are seeing more and more students using the service which means that our visibility is increasing but also that people are struggling more and more with mental health issues, our main reason for callers coming to Nightline. We’re a very unique service. We could never do what