It was announced on Thursday by Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education, that an additional £10 million of funding would be afforded to universities across Wales. In an attempt to support university students through the coronavirus pandemic, this additional funding is of course welcomed yet the likely effectiveness of it deserves to be questioned, writes Joe Kidd, a student at Cardiff University.
It is important to acknowledge the instant need for the expansion of mental health provisions, exaggerated by policies pursued by the Welsh Government. Policies that have had a disproportionate impact on younger generations.
Realistically, the funding awarded to universities to help them bolster their mental health services will vary, the extent to which a change, in universities mental health processes, will occur is doubtful. It is therefore important to ask, how far will this money go? Experiences of mental health services at Cardiff University alone, is one of waiting list, after another. Even before coronavirus had hit our shores. Consequently, many students have missed out on receiving help and many simply deserted, without receiving the help they crucially needed. Whilst the new funding will go some way to “help increase capacity in students’ unions and universities“, this will not change the inept processes and neglect shown by many universities when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of their student populations. Whilst this may come as a surprise, social media has provided many young people with essential interaction during the coronavirus pandemic. Although virtually, it may have helped mitigate some of the impacts of lockdown. Universities should utilise this tool, not just as an alternative to teaching, but to create an online community to help offset the lack of interaction amongst students who are stuck in accommodation and feel lonely.
Young people yearn for community and social bonding, more than most other demographics, being limited in a way that puts their social lives on hold, has and will continue to have devastating consequences. Starting at university can be a tough time for all, particularly when you are moving away from friends and family to a completely new city. But, for first-year students this year, the situation has been simply incomparable. Remote learning, isolation and curfews have made it almost impossible for students to meet new people and make new friends. Effectively being imprisoned in university accommodation, one student claimed “it feels as though we are paying to be in prison.” Governments and universities have been purposefully vague towards students debating a return to university, with accommodation and tuition fees being paid in full, knowing full well that students would pay the costs. With university students increasingly concerned about a student debt, particularly when many have received under-par content, reducing tuition fees to reflect value for money for their education could provide a sense of security for many.
Yet it is not just the policies, but the lack of, that have contributed to the apparent mental health crisis. It was only late September when Mark Drakeford refused to rule out preventing students from returning home for Christmas. A month later and it has been clarified that returning students home for Christmas is a “priority” for the Welsh Government, but one can’t help but feel the wellbeing of many students had already been damaged after the consideration of such a ludicrous measure. Sadly, I am unable to claim that the fear and confusion amongst students has stopped. Now in a national lockdown, following a series of local-lockdowns in counties across Wales, people are right to question when such measures will come to an end. After all, a government minister stated that a new year firebreak lockdown ‘cannot be ruled out’. Today, young people feel less in control of their lives than ever before. There is no end in sight, so how can they be expected to oblige by guidelines at the detriment of their mental wellbeing?
The rise of social media and the isolationist nature of lockdowns have impacted the younger generations in a way nobody could’ve imagined. Social interaction is the key to happiness in life, take that away and it’s inevitable we will all struggle. Across the United Kingdom, governments have pushed students back to university, only to subsequently be isolated from both their friends and family. Students that have been misled into paying huge fees for accommodation, in return for remote learning and social isolation. The services provided by universities are far from efficient, with Welsh Labour’s lockdown proving more harmful than ever, a more targeted and efficient approach is now required.
This cannot continue.
Joe Kidd is second year student at Cardiff University and Wellbeing Officer for Cardiff University Conservative Association.