by Robyn Banks
On the 25th of April, Professor Richard Andrews, the head of the School of Education and Life Long Learning (EDU) at UEA, announced the closure of the university’s counselling programme. This means that all courses surrounding the subject of counselling, including a PG diploma and an MA, will no longer be taught at UEA as of the beginning of the 2018 academic year. Andrews described this as a ‘difficult decision’ resulting from ‘low demand for the course’. This closure is especially significant, not only to UEA but to the wider Norwich and Norfolk area.
As with most courses in EDU, counselling students are required to go on a work placement somewhere within Norfolk, to learn on the job and develop their skills. Some stay at UEA to do important work at the Student Support Services (SSS), the infamously under-funded mental health service provided by the university.
Losing those placements will add extra pressure to mental health services across the county
The current minimum wait time to see a counsellor at UEA is 6 weeks, and this has, appallingly, been the standard for the last couple of years I’ve been studying at UEA. If you go to SSS at the beginning of the semester you might be lucky enough to finally see a professional by the time you’re halfway through it. This wait will only be lengthened when the support of counselling students on placement comes to an end. These students provide their time and energy to help treat students at UEA with the myriad mental health difficulties they may face throughout their degree. The work they do is equivalent to four full time members of staff, which no doubt makes a huge difference to such an overstretched service.
This issue won’t be exclusive to UEA either. Counselling students work placements across Norfolk in various services that are often as stretched as SSS. Losing those placements will add extra pressure to mental health services across the county. At a time of savage cuts to the NHS and other support services in the community being forced to make cuts or close, UEA’s decision to cut a course that does so much good is ignorant, abhorrent, and very telling of the institution’s attitude to life outside of University Ward.
UEA has consistently proved that it views itself as a business as opposed to a place of learning. This can be seen in its continued investment in fossil fuels and its campus rent hike as well as its attitude to mental health, where we have seen the funding for SSS stagnate over the last couple of years.
The closure of this programme and the services it provides come at a time when mental health is a hot topic on campus following the introduction of a number of Anthony Gormley Statues to campus. The placement of one on the edge of the library roof has been accused of being in poor taste, partly due to its positioning but also because of the abysmal state of the mental health support on campus. The statues are nothing more than an embodiment of the failure of the university to put students first, and of their preference for the reputational capital this kind of art partnership brings.
What we need to see from UEA is an acknowledgement of the crisis they are facing. The end of the counselling programme will result in shortfalls at SSS which UEA show no sign of balancing with new investment. Even more concerningly, it will result in wider community services suffering further cutbacks. The closure is another instance of profit being put before the welfare of the people that need these services. It is a complete moral failure by the university to look beyond their bank balance and see the effects their decisions are having on the wider world.
Featured image credit: N Chadwick
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