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NI universities defend efforts to address student mental health and wellbeing

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Queen's University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast

Ulster University in Belfast city centre

Ulster University in Belfast city centre

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Queen's University Belfast

Northern Ireland’s universities have hit back at claims they are not doing enough to provide students with the mental health and wellbeing care they need.

Queen’s University and Ulster University responded to calls from SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin to step up student care services ahead of the new term, saying they are fully committed to providing the best services for students who may be experiencing difficulties as a result of Covid-19.

Last week, the annual National Student Survey found that only 46% of students felt their university had taken sufficient steps to support their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

That prompted Ms McLaughlin, the SDLP’s higher education spokesperson, to write to local universities urging 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.

Both Northern Ireland universities have moved to reassure students that mental health and wellbeing issues remain a top priority as the new term approaches.

“Queen’s University is committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of our students and staff,” a spokesperson for QUB said.

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“The university offers a diverse range of mental health and wellbeing support for our students led by the student wellbeing service. This includes a daily drop-in clinic, one-to-one consultations, counselling, coaching, low-level cognitive behavioural therapy and self-help resources.

“The university recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in added stress and pressure for students and in response, additional financial support has been provided to increase resources and supports available to students. We have been working pro-actively with our Students’ Union to implement initiatives that promote our services in order to broaden our reach and respond to the needs of our students.

“Throughout the pandemic, all mental health and wellbeing support continued to be available through the utilisation of telephone, video conferencing and virtual presenting platforms to ensure ease of access and a consistency of support for students, with face-to-face services and support reinstated since 3 August 2020.”

At Ulster University, the expansion of student wellbeing services was one of a series of measures put in place to assist students.

“We recognise that the last year has been unprecedented for everyone,” the university said

“Staff and students quickly adapted to new ways of learning and teaching and at Ulster University, our response included expansion of our student wellbeing services online to ensure help was, and continues to be, at hand for anyone struggling personally or academically.

“In the context of such a challenging year, it is unsurprising that student satisfaction has declined across the UK, however we are encouraged that NSS results have placed Ulster University more than nine points above the sector average and with the highest overall satisfaction amongst universities in Northern Ireland.

“Ulster University is proud of the enormous efforts our staff have made to ensure both the wellbeing and academic progress of students and we appreciate the comments made by many students in NSS, that staff have gone ‘above and beyond’ in terms of support during the pandemic.

“Ulster University’s commitment to student mental health pre-dates the pandemic and remains core to our values and focus for the future,” the spokesperson added.”

“We regularly seek feedback from our students in addition to the annual national surveys and work closely with our Students’ Union in response to those results to inform our planning, delivery and services, in the very best interests of our students.

“Our ongoing commitment to student wellbeing, boosted by these additional activities, ensures that our comprehensive approach to student wellbeing and mental health remains a top priority in the year ahead.”


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