The Student Support Service has faced further criticism after statistics covering the first month of this year showed no progress in an expected increase in standards.
Waiting times for counselling in January were on average 41 days, with the Student Support Service aiming to reduce this to 30. Waiting times for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) did not fare much better, with a wait time of 24 days compared to an aim of 20.
One second-year Politics student said: “I’ve been waiting since the beginning of January for counselling sessions, the process as a whole is very disappointing and has started to affect my studies.”
Another said that she had been advised to seek help from the service but is “reluctant because of the lengthy wait times and poor feedback from other students,” adding, “statistics like this only prove this to be true.”
SU Welfare Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards said the figures were shocking. “Whilst the Uni told Concrete in January that wait times were ‘falling’, stats show students are still having to wait over 60 days to get help, with over a hundred sat on a waiting list.
“Not only does this fall short of the promises we’ve had over the past two years about SSS, it’s also much worse than most similar Universities- and won’t even cover the students who know the service isn’t up to scratch and are suffering in silence instead.”
Providing students with easy to access mental health and wellbeing services has been a crucial talking point of the students’ union campaigning for several years. It also featured heavily in this year’s sabbatical officer elections.
It was suggested the university should appoint more counsellors, however both the students’ union and university think the problem may be elsewhere.
The current staff to student ratio is 1:2,237, within the ratio recommended for universities by the Higher Education Policy Institute and higher than an average ratio of counsellors to students of 1:5,000.
Ms Edward said: “The figures don’t necessarily point to a need for more counsellors- there seems to be a blockage in the therapy allocation process- but whatever the issue it needs to be sorted quickly and a proper plan put in front of us that assures us that things will get better.
“Every single student being failed by these figures deserves better and we’ll be stepping up our lobbying and campaigning on this in the next month or so to secure it.”
Ms Edwards said just 66 people on campus were being provided with counselling.
UEA’s Director of Student Support Services Dr Jon Sharp said: “The question of waiting times is one that needs to be handled carefully, particularly in terms of making comparisons between different institutions.
“At UEA we have begun a significant process of management information gathering and reporting, the results of which are being shared with the students’ union as part of our commitment to a transparent and partnership-based approach to delivery.
“We are still in the process of fine-tuning that information gathering, but we have already been able to use the information to drive improvements in our waiting times.”
Dr Sharp confirmed the current waiting times for Psychological Wellbeing, which are low-intensity sessions with self-help materials for those with moderate anxiety or depression, is ten days. No students are currently waiting for this type of appointment.
“We are expected to achieve targets for CBT and counselling within the next month,” he said. He said in the last eighteen months positive changes were made. These include expanding the range of wellbeing services available, introducing more group and workshop based activities, reducing waiting times for counselling and introducing a same day appointment scheme.
“However, I also recognise that there is still more to do,” he told Concrete.
Dr Sharp continued: “I am working vigorously with the Wellbeing team and in partnership with the students’ union to ensure that we continue to make the necessary improvements and enhancements to the Wellbeing service.”