Universities in Northern Ireland have been urged to do more to address mental health issues after it was revealed less than half of students feel enough has been done over the past year.
The results were revealed in the annual National Student Survey, which found that only 46% of students felt their university had taken sufficient steps to support their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.
SDLP higher education spokesperson, Sinead McLaughlin, has now written to universities calling on them to provide more assistance for students who may be struggling.
“Throughout the pandemic, students and their representatives have told us time and again of the impact of Covid-19, not only on their studies but also on their mental health,” the Foyle MLA said.
“We cannot underestimate the extent of the pandemic’s impact on our young people,” she added .
“Students have found themselves trapped and isolated from their peers and learning communities, denied the quality of education they are paying for and have suffered extreme financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, especially those who were left out of the government’s support programmes, such as international students from outside the EU and part-time students.
“I am aware of the efforts made by universities this year and the significant public funding that has been granted to help address this problem. However, when 46% of our students tell us that we are not doing enough, a change is clearly needed.”
Ms McLaughlin said senior management of universities must recognise student mental health as a key priority and do more than pay lip-service to tackling the environmental and structural factors that impact our students’ wellbeing.
“As another academic year approaches, I am calling on universities to provide clear assurances that student mental health will be prioritised in the year ahead,” she said.
“This includes ensuring that institutional plans for visible and holistic mental health support have been put in place, developed in partnership with their Students’ Unions, that will comprehensively address the mental health needs of the students through their recovery from the pandemic.
“Students cannot be expected to continue to pay the price of this pandemic with their mental health. It is time for real action.”
Ulster University and Queen’s University have been asked for comment.