Students have criticised UEA’s decision to discontinue its five counselling courses from September 2017. They claim that the withdrawal will have a detrimental impact for students currently studying at the Counselling Centre, campus counselling services, and on local mental health services.
A “Keep Counselling” campaign urges the university to reconsider the decision. In an online petition, students ask UEA to explain how the voluntary counselling that diploma students offer to campus and local mental health services will be met in the future.
The group said: “More than forty students currently study counselling at UEA and those on Diploma courses supply 1,600 hours of free counselling per annum to support students and staff at the university’s Wellbeing Service.”
A university spokesperson said that the closure decision had “not been taken lightly” and “does not reflect a negative view of the value of counselling to the wider community.”
“Rather, it reflects the School of Education and Lifelong Learning’s need for greater alignment of its courses and a more coherent portfolio of activity centred on the teaching of Education theory and practice.”
Clive Lewis, who is running for re-election in Norwich South, said the closures “remind me very much of the university’s motivation for closing the music department – their first motivation wasn’t to provide services for public good but instead it was business and profit. Our universities must get the balance right between being a viable institution and serving wider public interest.”
The Labour politician added that universities “feel they are being left little alternative but to maximise income from tuition fees to make ends meet. One of the benefits of my party’s policy of ending tuition fees will be to put funding of HE on a fairer and broader footing.”
Students say the university has not effectively liaised with local charities about the decision’s impact.
Keep Counselling state that local charities MIND, Eating Matters, the St Barnabas Counselling Centre, and the 4Cs Counselling Centre in Dereham, will also be affected by a lack of UEA placement students.
They said: “Most charities were unaware of the forthcoming course cancellations and concern is now being voiced about the impact that the sudden loss of mental health provision may have in the region.”
A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said:
“The closures of courses at UEA will damage local mental health services for all, including the university’s own students, staff and families.
The local mental health trust, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), currently has more than 350 unfilled clinical jobs.
It is a great shame that the university is seeking to extract maximum profit rather than choosing to behave as a responsible member of the local community, training students to deliver excellent healthcare. We urge the university to reconsider its decision.”
A UEA spokesperson said: “There are alternative providers of counselling courses in the city and region, such as City College Norwich, the Norwich Centre, the University of Suffolk, the University of Cambridge and University Centre Colchester (linked to the University of Essex), where students can study counselling.”
Professor Richard Andrews, Head of the School of Education previously stated: “Students currently enrolled on Counselling courses will be able to finish their current programme of study as planned and the quality of your course and qualification will be unaffected.”
However, the Keep Counselling group said “students who joined the current PG Certificate courses are no longer able to complete the full flow of their training…despite having been told that that all courses would be available to them when they signed up last year.”
They add that news of the closure “arrived too late in the academic year to enable current students to apply for training elsewhere, thereby curtailing their ability to become fully trained counselling practitioners.”
Students also disagree with the school citing low demand as a reason for closure. They say: “The University has an international reputation as a leader in the Person Centred Counselling approach and its courses are regularly over subscribed.”
UEA disputes this, stating “In each of the past three years we have had fewer than the full-time equivalent of 35 students studying across the five full and part time courses offered.”
A university spokesperson said: “UEA continues to support mental health provision through the clinical psychology courses (66 currently on the course), High Intensity CBT and Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner courses (with more than 80 people commencing training on each of these in the last 12 months). In terms of UEA student counselling a new blended service model is being developed that will see an increase in cognitive behavioural therapy counselling capacity and less emphasis on person-centred counselling.”
Commenting on the closures SU Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer Jo Swo said: “Cutting counselling courses during a counselling crisis is misguided. The university’s decision appears rushed and we are concerned about the lack of consultation that has taken place over such a sensitive issue.”
In a blog post, Postgraduate Education Officer Maddie Colledge said the closures “mark a major loss to your institution.”
She added: “The equivalent of 4 fulltime members of staff will be lost from the counselling service,” with “at least 9 placement students” lost for local charities and schools.
Miss Colledge said: “University policy says you’ll see a full justification for the closure- but it’s not materialised. The process guarantees that an Equality impact assessment is completed- but you’ve not seen it. The loss in counselling staff in SSS does not concern the university, as the ‘new model’ for wellbeing they are developing is moving away from counselling and towards other ‘evidence based and cost effective’ services.
What this means in real terms is unknown as no strategy exists, and no evidence has been provided to demonstrate the rationale behind these changes. Students have not been consulted about what they want from a new mental health strategy, despite the fact that their tuition fees fund this service. Even if the counselling hours are replaced by other front-facing services, the total hours of support available will not increase significantly, and students will still be placed on two month long waiting lists.”
The students’ petition can be viewed here: https://www.change.org/p/x-prevent-uea-from-closing-down-counselling-courses