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September 9, 2013 | by  | in News |
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VUWSA and VUW Finally Agree on Something: Counselling funding going up to help students feeling down.

Students at Victoria could soon find it easier to access counselling services, though they would have to pay more in compulsory student levies.

VUWSA has agreed to a two-per-cent increase in the Student Services Levy (SSL) on the grounds that the rise will be used to help fund the extremely stretched student counselling services.

The SSL is a compulsory fee paid by all students at the start of each academic year. In 2013, it was $676 for internal students, and $338 for distance students. The rise for 2014’s SSL will be finalised at a University Council meeting on 16 September, with more details in Salient to come.

The Student Counselling Service, which employs nine full-time counsellors and provides one-on-one counselling to around ten per cent of all Victoria students, is funded entirely through the SSL. The allocation of the SSL is decided by the University with the help of the Advisory Committee on the Student Services Levy (ACSSL), which comprises members of University management and three members of the VUWSA Executive: President Rory McCourt, Vice-President (Welfare) Rick Zwaan, and Vice-President (Academic) Sonya Clark, who all consult with students via representative groups and surveys.

Through ACSSL, VUWSA agreed to support a SSL rise on the provision that counselling receive more funding, that waiting times for health services remain the same, and that there be greater resources available for representation through programmes like class representatives and faculty delegates.

“One per cent was our preferred rise [for the SSL]; if it went to two per cent to secure [the services] then that was acceptable to us,” said McCourt, stating VUWSA was concerned about students not being able to see a counsellor when they need to, without a wait.

“VUWSA has, for every year I can remember, received complaints from students about the waiting times to see a counsellor around this time of year… this is a service which does need more resources to cope with increasing demand from students.”

Though Victoria is relatively well-funded in terms of student counselling compared to other universities, the service still struggles to keep up with demand with waiting times as long as two months for a non-urgent appointment. When Salient approached counselling services, the next available counselling appointment was 50 days away.

A two-per-cent rise would be enough to cover an additional counsellor position, though McCourt notes VUWSA’s support of a SSL increase is not contingent on the addition of a new counsellor, but on reducing waiting times by whichever means the counselling service sees fit. An additional counsellor would provide five hour-long counselling sessions per day, equating to around 7–800 more appointments available for students over the course of a year. With an average student requiring just under four appointments per year, this would make counselling available to a further 200 students.

While the University has not cut funding for student counselling in the past ten years, demand has grown rapidly: around five to six per cent of students were using the service in 2001, when the University population was 12,000, but both figures have nearly doubled since then. There are now 22,000 students at Victoria, nine to ten per cent of whom use the student counselling service at some stage.

Students Salient spoke to said that they had been deterred by waiting times of up to three months, and that they felt that the services were inaccessible.

“An increased capacity would make a huge difference… People who are having a shit time, at any point in their lives, should be able to access counselling. It should not be something that is only sought in extreme situations,” said one student.

The counselling service, managed by Gerard Hoffman, has looked at various new initiatives to make best use of its limited resources. It has increasingly offered preventative measures such as open seminars on stress management, as well as increasing the hours of on-duty counsellors to six hours a day during high-demand periods in the final weeks of term.

“My belief is that part of the issue is that this place is inherently stressful, and that students aren’t well-enough equipped to handle these stresses.

“I think we could [develop students’ resilience] a lot quicker and a lot more effectively… so that we reserve as best we can our resources for students who really need us,” said Hoffman.

Students can find the counselling service at Mauri Ora, on level one of the Student Union Building, at counselling-service@vuw.ac.nz, or on (04) 463 5310.

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