From the beginning of the Academic Year Swansea University Wellbeing service will no longer be providing counselling service in house. Instead, counselling will be provided by an external agency known as Exchange-Counselling, a counselling service based in the city centre that specialises in supporting children and young people. Exchange Counselling provides counselling for young people between the ages of 16-25 and provides its services to several schools in the Swansea area.
Student mental health has seen a sharp decline over the past 3-5 years, with research into student mental health showing that 43,000 students in academic year 2014-2015 accessed counselling at Russell group Universities, compared with only 34,000 three years ago. This 28% increase is sharp but other universities have showed much greater increases including 57% at the University of Leeds and a staggering 75% increase at Cardiff University. The increase can be explained by the rise in tuition fees, lower levels of loans and student grants, rising accommodation and living costs and the reduced number of adequately paid job prospects post university.
The change has been made to reduce the pressure on the Wellbeing service, which has been routinely oversubscribed throughout the academic year, with many students waiting 6-8 weeks plus for a first counselling appointment. The demand for the service reached an unsustainable level after the January term that the waiting list itself had to close for a short period. One of the goals of the change has been to severely cut the long counselling waiting list, with Director of Student Services Kevin Childs stating that the change will hopefully “double to triple the Universities capacity to provide counselling”. An unfortunate unconfirmed side effect of this change, however, is that the Wellbeing service will not be able to provide the range of workshops this year that they ran in 2015-2016, as they were run by in-house counsellors.
The change does provide the potential for significant benefits to students under distress or suffering from mental health conditions. The increased resources of Exchange should lead to a reduction in the average waiting list for most students seeking counselling and the service will be able to provide said counselling in previously inaccessible periods such as Easter break or the Summer period.
Queries have been raised on the suitability of the service for students. The exchange service is located in Mansel Street, a trek for many students, particularly those living on Hendrefoelan or Singleton Campus. When raised this issue Kevin Childs did give an assurance that students would still be provided counselling at the Singleton campus site. The extent of the counselling service being provided at Singleton compared with Mansel Street is currently unclear, but due to continuing issues of room allocation across all departments at Singleton Campus it is possible many students will be referred directly to the Mansel street location. A further concern is that the Wellbeing service has been without a director since January after a sustained recruitment drive failed to provide any suitable candidates.
Below is transcribed and interview with Director of Student Services Kevin Childs on the change.
Q: Will this change be in effect from the beginning of this academic year or will the system be turning over to exchange at another date?
A: The ambition is for the change to be in effect from the start of this academic year.
Q: Why has the change been undertaken?
A: The change has come about as a result of all Counsellors applying for Voluntary Severance and being successful in those applications.
Q: What will be the benefit for students?
A: The benefits will be considerable:
More provision of counselling that will meet the demand
A significantly reduced waiting list – in 2015-16 the waiting times were up to 8 weeks with lists being closed in January 2016, the new service will ensure that all students who need counselling provision will be able to access it.
Discreet off campus sessions, centrally located between Park and Bay Campuses – offering absolute parity of service and reducing any tensions regarding students feeling stigmatised etc.
More availability throughout the academic year and over holiday periods (especially summer time) historically the service has only been provided Term Time only.
We are exploring the potential of out of office hours availability, students in theory being able to access the service at times that much better suit them, enabling their continued attendance at academic inputs lectures / seminars etc.
Alternative counselling therapies and approaches
Q: How much will the service improve due to this change?
A: As per above we will be in a position to significantly improve the service – also in addition we will be triaging all students before referring externally this will ensure that only the students that need counselling receive it, many will be better served via other interventions through our wellbeing Mental Health team etc. Students attend Wellbeing commonly believing that they need counselling when that is not necessarily the best thing for them; this new method of service provision will ensure a more bespoke personalised approach.
Q: Another smaller query is that exchange counselling offers its services currently to young people between the ages of 16-25. Will older students be able to access the service under the agreement, or will the same age restriction apply to the agreement?
A: The Exchange state this, as that is the majority of work they do under their charitable status, however, we are entering an agreement to buy in the service we need and as such there will be no age restriction at all.