New research has shown Leeds Metropolitan University’s counselling service to be inferior, as the number of full time equivalent counsellors drop to 2.6, compared with 6.5 at Leeds University – leading professionals to question whether it is up to scratch.
According to the guidelines set by the Association for University and College Counselling (AUCC): “one full-time counsellor for 3,000 students and staff is good practise.” Leeds Metropolitan currently has 10,576 students per counsellor, although these guidelines are also breached by Manchester Metropolitan University, with 6,017 students per counsellor, and 4,739 students per counsellor at Leeds University.
Not only is this a worrying situation effecting students’ wellbeing, but research taken out in October by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has found: “over the last three years the number of students seeking counselling has increased by 16%”.
During this period, the number of full time equivalent counsellors at Leeds Met dropped from 3.6 to 2.6. Patti Wallace, Lead Advisor for University and College Counselling at BACP commented: “We are also seeing signs that students are coming to us with more complex, serious and disturbing problems”. Since long waiting times can be crucial to the wellbeing of a student in need, this is an issue for Leeds Met as it currently takes a student a maximum of four weeks to see a counsellor, as opposed to an average of five days at Leeds University, where they have 3,304 more students, and 1-10 days, (if not on the day) for Manchester Met students.
Moreover, there are currently 15 students on a waiting list to see a counsellor at Leeds Met, compared to no waiting list at Leeds University. One third-year student, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been on the waiting list for two weeks: “I understand the service might be busy this time of year, but I do feel my situation has worsened in the time I have been waiting to see a counsellor.”
Leeds Met did respond, stating: “Whilst it is true that there is currently a waiting list for counselling specifically, all students registering with the service are offered a one-off wellbeing appointment normally within a few days with a Wellbeing practitioner (counselling, mental health or chaplain) to discuss their issue and explore coping strategies, as well as identifying self-help resources and external sources of support.” However, in the case of the third-year student currently on the waiting list, this one-off wellbeing appointment was not offered, or made aware to them at all. Clearly their statement that ‘all students’ are offered this is simply not true. When this fact was put forward to Leeds Met, they did not respond.
There is nothing to say the Leeds Met counsellors themselves are not highly qualified and give excellent support, but the facts show the amount of counsellors for the demand is poor. Patti Wallace, Lead advisor for University and Collage Counselling at BACP said: “In order to support students, we must maintain sufficient access to counselling and ensure that those who need our help can access it in a timely and appropriate way.”
Leeds Metropolitan University was unprepared to reveal their counseling budget with salaries included, but there are signs the university has been struggling financially since the fees went up in 2012. At this time The Telegraph reported: “At Leeds Metropolitan University, entry levels on 97 degree courses have been cut to 80 points on the Universities and Colleges Admission Service tariff – the equivalent of two grade Es, the lowest possible pass.” This was in order to gain as much revenue from student fees as possible. Yes, it is hard times, and whilst being an educational facility, universities are essentially businesses too. What Leeds Metropolitan must consider is the effect it could have on their already decreasing student numbers.
Dr Pollie Hartley, of Glasgow Royal Infirmary commented: “From a medical point of view, there is clearly an inadequate counselling service at Leeds Metropolitan. Mental health has a well-known peak in university aged students, particularly with the stresses of exams and essays. With such a large number of students, Leeds Met should be investing in the support of their students from more than an academic point of view.”
In the response that Leeds Metropolitan gave, Jan Daley, head of student wellbeing, outlined there are other services available to students: “In addition to the employed counsellors, Leeds Metropolitan University has historically run a large volunteer Associate Counselling Scheme,through which the Counselling Service, which is BACP accredited, was able to offer more than 100 hours of counselling per week.” However, if this has already been in place for a ‘historical’ length of time, it hasn’t made a difference to the inadequate waiting times and over-subscribed service.
Jan Daley did however state that: “A bank of sessional counsellors has been recruited and will be in place for the start of Semester 2, and we anticipate that there will not normally be more than a week’s waiting time for counselling then.” So steps have been taken to improve the service, and hopefully students at Leeds Metropolitan will have better resources for wellbeing in the New Year.