We’re supporting calls to extend counselling funding in Scotland’s universities and colleges amid fears students could lose access to support next summer.

The Scottish Government’s £20m programme, to fund 80 counsellors in colleges and universities over four years, was initially secured as a result of our lobbying alongside the NUS and other partners in Scotland.

It’s been a huge success in ensuring students across Scotland’s higher and further education institutions have improved access to counselling services, no matter where they study.

Improved mental health

Evaluation evidence has shown that student’s accessing counselling have improved their mental health, and it’s helped retain students who may otherwise not have completed their studies.

However, the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland has voiced its concerns the existing provision for counselling in the country’s colleges and universities, which comes to an end next summer, could create a cliff edge without a commitment in place to extend the provision.

Ellie Gomersall, president of NUS Scotland, told The Times: “The Scottish government must live up to its 2019 promise to NUS Scotland that £20 million of funding will be provided to support mental health counsellors in colleges and universities, so that every student has access to vital support, regardless of where they study.

“Without a funding commitment from the Scottish government beyond April 2023, universities and colleges will struggle to retain and recruit mental health counsellors at the worst possible moment.”

Due to the pandemic, there were delays in establishing provision over the first two years of the funding, resulting in an underspend.

We support the call by NUS Scotland, Colleges Scotland and Universities Scotland for unspent funds from previous years to be carried forward into a fifth year.

Sustainable and manageable 

This would ensure that increased investment in the college and university sectors is sustainable and manageable for institutions and ensures continuation of much-needed support for students.

It would ensure our members working in institutions have continuity of employment while ensuring that universities and colleges will be able to retain and recruit counsellors.

This additional year would also allow for completion of a new Student Mental Health Plan, which is being led by the Scottish Government’s Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group.

We’re represented on this working group together with COSCA, NUS Scotland, Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, Heads of Universities Counselling Services (HUCS) and other key partners.

Steve Mulligan, our Four Nations Lead, said “While ultimately we’d like to see funding for counselling in universities and colleges to be secured indefinitely, we believe the arrangement to utilise underspend to extend the programme into a fifth year is a hugely sensible and practical proposal.

Ease recruitment challenges

“This would prevent a financial cliff edge for further and higher education institutions and ease recruitment challenges that the sector and BACP members are facing in Scotland due to continued uncertainty.

“The ongoing impact of the pandemic, coupled with the cost of living crisis is additionally having a huge impact on student mental health in Scotland, and our members across education settings have a critical role to play in supporting them through these challenging times.”