This morning, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris has announced a funding package of €5 million for student well-being and mental health.
The funding comes as colleges and universities are set to open next month, following their closure on March 12, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The funding package includes the original €2 million funding for student mental health and wellbeing allocated to higher education for 2020, alongside a further €3 million as a response to Covid-19.
The funding will be used to recruit additional student counsellors and assistant psychologists, as well as to implement the Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions.
The funding is also intended to help implement the soon to be published National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework.
According to the press release, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) will be contacting individual colleges and universities this week, setting out individual allocations and the conditions attaching to the use of these funds in support of student services.
Minister Harris said: “The number one health issue for young people in Ireland today is concerns or worries around their mental health. These concerns have been compounded by the isolation and uncertainty brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“For students, the college experience has been different this year from ever before. Students have had to adjust to remote learning and carried out without face to face support from their college or their peers,” Harris added.
He continued: “For these reasons, I have sought to support student counselling services, key mental health interventions and the provision of a safe, respectful, supportive and positive environment in our higher education institutions.”
Minister Harris explained: “This will help us support students as they return to college in this Covid world.”
Trinity is expected to start the new academic term on September 28, three weeks later than it’s original start date.
Of the €5 million allocated, Trinity will be given €214,000 to provide students with mental health supports on campus. University College Dublin (UCD) will be given €356,000, while the largest amount of the funding will go to Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), with €590,000 going to mental health support across its three campuses.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Alan Wall, Chief Executive Officer, HEA said: “This additional support, being provided by the Minister, is a welcome boost to a higher education sector that enrols in the region of 55,000 new students each year.”
Dr Wall continued: “These young and not-so-young students engage in higher education at a sometimes-challenging time of change and progression in their lives.
“This is a sizable proportion of our population, and while our health and community services work to support everyone, there can be environmentally specific or transitional issues that arise for both current and new students in higher education,” he added.
Wall explained: “We will be encouraging institutional leaders to use these new resources to foreground student supports, to build on existing capacity, and to provide better bridges between the various service providers locally, regionally and nationally.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) Student Welfare and Equality Officer Leah Keogh stated that it is “heartening to see student mental health prioritised by this financial commitment”, which is something Keogh “asked the Minister for during a conference on ‘ending sexual violence and harassment at third level’ last month”.
Keogh added: “It is hoped that this money will alleviate pressure on our counselling service and improve our resources to better equip Trinity to implement the national framework of Consent which advocates for a trauma-led response to diclosures of sexul misconduct, all benefiting student mental health.”
She added: “Given the current climate of isolation and uncertainty, this money is welcomed now more than ever.”