Student activists and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are currently at odds over whether the €2 million promised to higher education institutions for mental health supports has actually been issued.
On the 9th of October 2019, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, then Minister of State for Higher Education, announced a sweeping funding increase for Irish universities, totalling to €153 million. With this announcement, many student activists rejoiced, as it specifically earmarked a desperately-needed €2 million “to establish a new annual commitment to support student mental health and wellbeing.”
The rest of the story seems to depend on who you ask.
If we ask the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, we get a fairly straightforward answer. According to a Department spokesperson, “The HEA has made the additional 2020 allocation of €2 million in support of mental health services and wellbeing available to higher education institutions via the funding allocation model earlier this year. Each institution has received a share, based on the number of students registered, with the funding earmarked to assist institutions in supporting students with their mental health and wellbeing”.
However, when we ask those campaigning for these mental health services, they seem to paint a very different picture. One such activist is UCC Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Jamie Fraser. When asked for comment on the Spokesperson’s statement, Fraser flatly refuted the Department’s perspective on the issue. In response, Fraser said that “I haven’t received any update on the €2 million, and every TD I approached on the issue didn’t know it had been allocated either. The mental health services in our colleges are not aware of this being allocated either.” Fraser went on to say that “I’ll be sure to investigate this. But as far as I and everyone I’ve been in dialogue with are aware- [this] isn’t the case.”
According to Fraser, after the Minister’s announcement in 2019, the Union of Students in Ireland (of which UCD is not a member) released a proposal for how they believe the funds should be allocated to each institution. However, according to Fraser, since the Minister’s announcement and the USI proposal, it appears that no money has actually made its way to these institutions, with waiting lists for appointments at UCC growing to 9 weeks.
When asked by The College Tribune for comment on Fraser’s statements, the length of waiting lists, and some sort of documentary evidence that the money has been allocated, the Department spokesperson responded by saying that the HEA and the Department will be preparing a “National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework”, to be published in the coming weeks. They also continued to insist that the money has been allocated, saying:
Development and implementation of this framework has been linked to the additional 2020 allocation of €2 million in support of mental health services and wellbeing which was made available to higher education institutions via the HEA funding allocation model earlier this year. The HEA will be following up with institutions on this funding allocation as part of the implementation of the new framework.
Notably, the spokesperson said that the additional €3 million funding for student mental health, announced by Simon Harris a few weeks ago, will also be allocated “in the coming weeks”. No documentary evidence that the previous €2 million of funding has actually been allocated was provided.
Student concerns for inadequate mental health support services were compensated by the promise for more funding. The real controversy seems to be whether this funding has actually made its way to these services. The question still remains unanswered: where has this money gone?
Jack McGee – Reporter