€5 million in increased funding for third level-institutions has been dedicated towards mental health and well-being.
The decision, announced in August by Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science, arose due to the need for extra mental health support in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. UCD will receive €356,000 of the fund, the second-highest amount after TU Dublin.
The Government has specified that the fund is to be dedicated to the recruitment of new student counsellors and assistant psychologists. The funding is also for the implementation of the framework for consent, as well as the implementation of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) contacted all higher-level institutes setting out individual allocations and conditions attaching to the use of the funds. A representative for UCD told The University Observer that the extra government funding will be used to “enhance our student counselling and health service provision, including additional staff, and to support broader student wellbeing initiatives”.
Mr. Harris described mental health concerns as “the number one health issue” for young people in Ireland, further outlining that these concerns have been “compounded” by the “isolation and uncertainty brought forward by Covid-19”. Mr. Harris also acknowledged the change to the college experience for students during the Covid-19 pandemic, referencing the adjustment to remote learning and lack of face-to-face support from peers or the college.
Dr. Alan Wall, Chief Executive Officer of the HEA described the funding as a “welcome boost” to the higher education sector. He outlined that the HEA 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”.
The increased funding has been welcomed nationally. The Union of Students Ireland (USI) has welcomed the increased funding, President of the Union, Lorna Fitzpatrick said that USI is “delighted” by the “very needed” funding, however, she also stressed the importance of annual funding to be “ring-fenced for well-being initiatives and counselling services”.
The Irish Student Health Association expressed their support for the increased funding and their hope that “further measures” will follow to protect students and staff in student health centres. The Irish Universities Association also encouraged the funding, stating that it will be “key” in assisting universities to support students this academic year.