As Scotland’s new First Minister Humza Yousaf starts his role this week we’re keen to ensure the growing crisis in mental health support for students in Scotland is towards the top of his already full inbox.
As a priority, we’re writing to Mr Yousaf and the new Higher and Further Education Minister, Graeme Day MSP, to secure a decision on the continuation of funding for counselling to support students at Scotland’s further education colleges and universities.
In 2017-18, we proudly campaigned with NUS Scotland and SAMH to secure important investment student mental health support.
It resulted in a pioneering £20 million four-year programme to place 80 counsellors across all higher and further education institutions.
With funding due to end in the summer, we’re hugely concerned this vital support will now be lost, particularly in the college sector where most institutions didn’t have access to employed counsellors before the Scottish Government’s welcomed commitment in 2018.
We were pleased to see a short debate on this issue in the Scottish Parliament this week, following a verbal question by Pam Gosal MSP.
She was joined by five other members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who all called on the Government to urgently resolve the issue.
We know that HE and FE institutions are being placed in a very challenging situation due to the cost of living rises and ongoing budget challenges. We supported the action taken by Colleges Scotland last week who co-ordinated a letter from 21 college principals to Government calling for urgent clarity on the future funding for counselling, where they warned that they may need to issue redundancy notices to counsellors.
We find the funding situation extremely disappointing, given the Government’s clear commitment to student mental health.
It's also hugely disappointing in light of the increased demand for counselling from many students struggling with the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.
We’re also incredibly concerned that the impact is already being felt by counsellors themselves, who are providing a vital service but whose jobs are sadly under threat due to lack of clarity on whether future investment will be in place.
Over the past 12 months, as a member of the Scottish Government’s Working Group on Student Mental Health and Wellbeing, I have consistently highlighted the need to ensure continuation of this critical investment, working alongside key partners from the education sector including NUS Scotland, Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland and individual institutions.
As well as placing counsellors under unnecessary pressure, including many BACP members, we’ve warned this would likely result in the existing workforce moving onto other more sustainable roles, making it challenging for institutions to rebuild counselling provision when the funding did become available again.
As a result of our engagement, we’ve been pleased to see the previous Further and Higher Education Minister, Jamie Hepburn MSP, provide £2 million to extend funding to March 2023, with a further commitment for additional funding to cover the current Academic Year.
We also know that the Scottish Government will be delivering a Student Mental Health Plan later this spring, which we have collaborated on through the Working Group - but we can’t wait for that to emerge.
Institutions are planning their budgets for next year and need urgent clarity now to inform their workforce plans.
We’ll be seeking an urgent decision on this and are continuing to call for a sustainable longer term funding commitment which will reassure students, institutions and counsellors that these vital life-saving services will be available within a wider package of support.