Tuition Fee Rise Blamed For Huge Surge In Students Seeking Counselling At University

One university saw a jump of 75% in students needing help

More than 43,000 students at Russell Group institutions had counselling in the last academic year, a rise of 28% in three years, a report claims.

The increase is partly due to the rise in tuition fees, say mental health campaigners, as financial stress is linked to anxiety and depression.

The surge in students seeking help coincides with the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 according to Mind, a mental health charity.

The University of Edinburgh reported a 75% rise between 2011-12 and 2014-15, however the figures did not differentiate between Scottish students who pay significantly less fees than their UK counterparts. The statistics were obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the Press Association.

In Wales, where homegrown students also pay less tuition fees, Cardiff University reported a 72% - suggesting there may be more contributing factors at play than just the fee rise.

"Today’s students face an unprecedented financial burden with student loan and tuition fee debt higher than ever before," says Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind.

"On the other side of this is the financial stress and uncertainty around employment on graduation.

"Both of these are major contributors to mental health problems like anxiety and depression."

According to the FOI data, the most commonly cited reason for students attending counselling was to treat anxiety. Of the 24 institutions questioned, only Southampton recorded a decline in students accessing counselling services.

The university cited an improved drop-in service as the reason for the decrease in students seeking help.

Shelly Asquith, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, also blamed the fee rise, and called for an "urgent review" on the funding put aside for mental health services.

"The evidence is clear. The marketisation of education is having a huge impact on students’ mental health. The value of education has moved away from societal value to ‘value for money’ and the emphasis on students competing against each other is causing isolation, stress and anxiety."

She added: "It has also forced institutions to compete aggressively against each other and put more money into advertising initiatives than student support services."

"Universities should be required to be told about students who have experienced difficulties at school, so that tutors can be made aware of difficulties in advance," he told HuffPost UK.

Seldon said there is a "shocking difference" between the close attention given to pastoral care of students at school, compared to at university.

"It's almost wholly lacking," he explained. "Too many students in higher education are experiencing depression and other forms of mental torture, some are dropping out while others are taking their lives, and much of this is totally avoidable."

Speaking about the figures, Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: "Student welfare is an absolute priority for Russell Group universities, which is why counselling services are well-publicised and widely available.

"Our members invest heavily in pastoral services so students are able to access the support they need. These can range from drop-in surgeries and advice centres to Nightline services and professional counselling.

"The widespread availability of these services means that many of those who may be in difficulty are able to seek out help quickly."

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