SFC Mental Health Fund to run out in July if no action is taken
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Several dozen students, activists, and members of the public gathered in Aberdeen’s Castlegate on Friday, 3 February to urge the Scottish Government to replenish the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Mental Health Fund, which has provided millions of pounds to Scottish universities for counsellors and other mental health services. If no action is taken, the funding will run out in July 2023. According to AUSA, the University stands to lose 96 thousand pounds in funding, which helps to pay for over 2000 hours of counselling services.
Ellie Gomersall, NUS Scotland President, opened the rally by putting the issue in perspective, telling the crowd that financial pressures were causing negative effects on students’ wellbeing. ‘If you happen to face a choice between… going to your lecture or taking an extra shift at work to make sure you can keep that roof over your head,’ she said, ‘you’re going to take that shift. And that means that students’ studies are suffering.’
Several local politicians spoke at the rally. Admitting that Aberdeen can be a ‘tough place’ for activism, Guy Ingerson, Co-Convener for the Aberdeen Green Party said he was ‘really proud’ of those in attendance. Similarly, SNP MP for Aberdeen North Kirsty Blackman urged the crowd to let their politicians know what they think. She commented: ‘Email your MSP… phone their office, say this is really important that during the budget process, you ensure that student support levels are kept, that mental health support, that counsellors are kept, Make it clear that that is a key priority for you…’
AUSA VP for Welfare Sai Shraddha S. Viswanthan concluded the event by sharing some of her own experiences. She told the crowd: ‘I used to be an international student before being a Sabbatical officer… I was lucky enough to have access to mental health services, but that doesn’t give us the guarantee that… if the government doesn’t give us any sort of confirmation of funds coming in for these services and to preserve them, there will be so many students falling in detriment.’
‘We stand in solidarity with lived experiences of students… We need answers from the government… We do not need complicated numbers or ambiguous words… we stand together and we demand that.’
After the rally had concluded, The Gaudie spoke to Nirvan Abedi, the Chairman of the Student Council. He commented, ‘I think it’s very important for everybody to be involved in this conversation because the decrease of this funding affects all of us as students… one of the biggest privileges of being a student in Aberdeen is that you can get those free counselling services during your difficult times as a student here. And if that fund is then decreased, that means that less students will be able to get that support that they require…’
Frank, a Ghanaian post-graduate student studying at the University, told The Gaudie that the rally was similar to campaigns he had been a part of in Ghana. He said: ‘This is an important conversation, and it's something we must all support… As a student leader back in Ghana, I think these are some of the conversations we always have when it comes to students’ development and welfare, and so that’s why I’m here.’
However, not everyone was pleased with the rally. Tomás Pizarro-Escuti, Convenor for the Law School and a member of Student Council, told The Gaudie: ‘I believe it is a shame that they did not take enough time to organise this… I’m really disappointed because this is such an important issue.. We should have marched from the University, from campus and come here to protest for real.’ Reflecting on climate strikes that were organised before the pandemic, he told The Gaudie that ‘student-led protests used to be massive.’
In order to secure a permit for a ‘public procession', Aberdeen City Council requires advance notice of 28 days and applicants to fill out several forms, including a risk assessment.
A University of Aberdeen spokesperson commented on the potential loss of SFC funding. They said: 'The University is dedicated to caring for the wellbeing, health and safety of our diverse community, and in recent years we have made significant advances in our mental health provision.
'This includes the signing of a joint Student Mental Health Agreement (SMHA) with Aberdeen University Students’ Association, underpinned by a commitment to training and resources for staff and measures to ensure a more consistent approach to study related support. We are also engaged in a new partnership with Spectrum.Life that enables students to engage with mental health and wellbeing services 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
We are committed to driving improvements in the level of mental health and wellbeing support available to our students, and the funding we receive from the Scottish Government for counselling services plays an important role in this regard.
We welcome the efforts being made by Universities Scotland to engage with and seek clarity from the Scottish Government on its intention to introduce a new sector-wide student mental health action plan, which will play an important role in determining our future provision.'