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Student difficulties in accessing university support services

With an ongoing global pandemic, university support services are as salient as ever. With the majority of students studying remotely, and others finding themselves restricted to their hall's bedrooms, most students are facing a degree of social isolation. With first year students likely to be away from home for the first time, adapting to life away from established support networks leaves them particularly vulnerable and zoom calls are no substitute for typical socialising, societies and university life. The enforcement of covid guidelines within halls of residence has left some students feeling “harassed”.

At the end of last year and first semester of the academic year, the NUS published statistics that over half of students had reported that their mental health had deteriorated, since the start of the pandemic.

For those finished with their studies, they graduate into what the IMF has described as the worst recession since the 1930s. Those still studying have a reduced offering of internships and networking opportunities. It's a tough time to be a student and universities must ensure that they are upholding their duty of care.

What services are available?

From the research we have conducted it appears that on the most part universities in the UK have some sort of wellbeing or support services available to their students, but quality and the extent to which they meet user needs will vary by institution. The Services provided may consist of anything from mental health counselors to Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, with the latter appearing to be less common. It is not uncommon for universities to have an implementation of the Nightline service, which the Nightlight Association provides guidance for. This initiative affords students free and confidential advice over the phone, in an effort to combat nighttime isolation. Student’s Unions should also offer student support, independently of their affiliated university. Generally, they can provide guidance on the aforementioned issues, in addition to other issues relevant to students such as housing or university disciplinary procedures.

Why do students need Support Services?

Student support services are vital, at a time when many young people are away from home and navigating living independently. Most students in the UK move away from home to attend university, and this is often the first time they are living independently. An exciting time for many young people, but one which also risks being overwhelming - surrounded by strangers, students may struggle to cope with the transition or may encounter other issues at any point during their degree. University support services should be able to provide expert and impartial advice to young people who may not know where else to turn, or have the means to access private counselling if required.

Unfortunately, what has been put in place to support students may also fail them, with various issues contributing to why there is a lack of adequate help.

Why are they difficult to access?

Though the pandemic is a new phenomenon, issues around student support and funding unfortunately are not. It was reported in 2020 that some 125,000 students were attending institutions that had cut mental health budgets, or failed to increase them over the course of the five years prior. This is a significant proportion of the student population and comes alongside other alarming figures such as, in 2015 cuts to DSA allowances were made; cutting the funding in p