This weekend we had the pleasure of representing Concrete at the Student Publication Association National Conference, sharing all of your hard work with over 20 other student publications. We were shortlisted for nine awards and had the joy of coming away from the weekend with a total of five awards, crowning the year off with Best Publication.
Both Joe and I couldn’t be more proud of our editorial team, who have all worked incredibly hard organising content, conducting interviews and laying up their brilliant pages (by no means an easy feat, so winning Highly Commended Best Newspaper Design is an incredible achievement). Writers, contributors, illustrators have all been responsible for making Concrete a fantastic success over the last year and we are truly grateful for their commitment to what we can now officially say is the best student publication in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Over the past year Concrete have produced a number of exclusive news articles; from our first issue in September which revealed how much profit the university was making from halls of residence, to our online piece about a UEA student being questioned by Special Branch, to last term’s article highlighting the financial problems faced by the Union of UEA Students. Almost every front page of Concrete has been home to one exclusive or another, providing UEA students with interesting and important news about their university. This issue is no different.
Our front page article written by our News Editor, Jessica Frank-Keyes focuses on the Dean of Students and reveals that over the past five years, the number of people using the service for mental health help has increased by just over 50%, while the amount of money the university gives to fund the service has only increased by 18%.
As more and more research is conducted into mental health and the true extent of the matter becomes better known, there are constant calls for better funding of mental health services. UEA must accept that they have a duty to look after any student studying at the university looking for support to deal with any mental health issues that they have. It is clear that under the current structure of Dean of Students the university is unable to continue to provide the help that many students need.
It is therefore welcome news that the university is planning to completely change the way they provide these services to students by getting rid of the Dean of Students and replacing it with the Student Support Service. While at first this may look purely like a rebranding exercise by UEA, the university is also planning to restructure their student services so that problems such as insufficient mental health funding can be overcome. It is a breath of fresh air to see the university admitting that there are improvements to be made in its mental health support and looking at ways they can improve their services; improving mental health funding has been something long campaigned for at a national level and yet is still an issue which is in so many ways still being overlooked.
Local MP, Norman Lamb, who represents the neighbouring constituency of Norfolk North, was minister responsible for mental health during the coalition government and was largely responsible for getting the government to pledge to spend £1bn extra a year on mental health by 2020. However, since the 2015 election he has argued that the Conservative government have broken their pledge claiming that the money would not cover the implementation of new waiting time standards.
While he has said he is sure Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is serious about wanting to continue to improve mental healthcare provision, he has argued that “you can’t do it without the money”. As demonstrated both by UEA’s Dean of Student struggles and by Lamb’s comment on national mental health care provision, finances really are the biggest problem when it comes to ensuring that quality support is offered.
I am pleased that UEA have taken the issue seriously and have acted to try and rectify the problem; I hope that the government will take a look at their own problems with providing public mental health care and also announce plans to try and improve the national situation.