The protest calling for an expansion of the Student Psychological Services (SPS) was held to coincide with the UCL postgraduate Open Day
On December 6th, a group of around 60 students protested around the UCL campus. The crowd certainly drew attention, marching through the cloisters chanting, standing at the front of UCL waving banners and giving out flyers encouraging prospective students to email the Provost to show their support.
The aim of the campaign is to increase funding for UCL’s Mental Health Services in order to improve psychological services on campus, for example by eliminating the prolonged waiting list for an initial consultation. Currently, the average waiting time to see a university counsellor is a minimum of six weeks. Furthermore, the SPS are significantly understaffed and the campaign is demanding a £340,000 increase per year in order to employ an additional 6.5 FTE counsellors as well as they are demanding the removal of the six-session cap on the counselling sessions. They are calling for a better representation of minority groups within the UCL counselling team to ensure that psychologists are diverse and ‘culturally competent.’ It has also been demanded for all staff to be employed in house at UCL as well as for new employees to be put on secure and permanent contracts.
The campaign was launched on the World Mental Health Day on October 10th. In their first display of direct action, members protested on the Provost’s balcony on November 29th. It seemed coincidental that on the day of the protest UCL released a statement on their website with a detailed explanation of the improvements they have made to student support services, and touching on the issues raised by the campaign. These changes included:
- A 365 day a year telephone counselling service
- The launch of a therapeutic clinic to help students with complex mental health conditions
- The expansion or support advisers and coordinators
- A new daily drop-in service
- The development of an information app on mental health services
- A solution focused model ensuring students receive therapeutic support as soon as possible
Details of these changes can be found here: link.
However, the Postgraduate Students’ Officer, Mark Crawford, has told Pi Media that the issue is still not being taken seriously. In a meeting between the Union and the Provost last Monday, he was met with ‘laughter’ from the Head of Student Support and Wellbeing, Denise Long, and the Vice Provost of Operations, Rex Knight, after bringing up the topic of increasing SPS funding. Denise Long was quoted on the UCL website under the revamping project stating a commitment to ‘supporting students in an empathetic, timely and appropriate manner.’
Mark said that the campaign was in its ‘first steps.’ In a meeting held by the campaign after the protest on Thursday, an open discussion was held about the possibility of holding another protest before the end of term.
There is an open letter to UCL student management calling for additional funding on the Union website that has been signed by a number of UCL counsellors and professors. You can read and sign the open letter here: link.
Featured image: Karolina Kaczmarek