CW: Mental health, rape, sexual assault

The University of Oxford has published its statistics for Student Welfare and Support Services in the 2018-19 academic year. 

The report shows that demand for the Counselling Service increased, with 12.1% of students seeking counselling. This represents a 0.9% increase on the 2017-18 figure. The number of students accessing counselling has risen consistently since 2007-08,  when 5.5% of students sought counselling. In total, 2,958 students accessed the Service in 2018-19.

Due to the increased demand, the average waiting time for an appointment increased slightly to 8.9 working days. Similarly, the average number of counselling sessions per student is at an all-time low level of 3.1. 

The report says: “There is increasing evidence that we are now under-serving some students, sending them away without having had adequate time to make secure progress. This is reflected in greater numbers of students returning to the service seeking supplementary sessions.”

The number of students declaring a disability has risen to 17.9% of undergraduates, a total of 4,387 students. The most common disability declared are mental health conditions (29.6%), followed by learning difficulties (27%).

In response to increased demand, the University recruited additional advisors, reducing the student to advisor ratio. A specialist mental health advisor was also introduced to support the increased number of students disclosing mental health issues.

Feedback for the Counselling Service and the Disability Advisory Service (DAS) was largely positive. 95% of students rated their experience of the Counselling Service as good or very good, and 90% of students said that the support arranged for them by the DAS was helpful.

The University has also released statistics for the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service, which was launched in the 2018-19 academic year. The Service provides support to any students affected by sexual harassment and violence. 

The vast majority of students accessing the Service were female. Almost 150 female students sought support compared to 21 male students. Rape and sexual assault accounted for 44% of the cases reported.

The report states that it provides support to students who have been accused of sexual harassment and violence. The Service supported nine accused students last year.

The University reports that demand for the service was higher than expected. Feedback to the service was positive with respondents saying they were comfortable speaking to their advisor. However, only 10 of the 52 students contacted gave feedback.

Gilian Hamnett, Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, said: “We are pleased and heartened to see such high levels of satisfaction from students using our welfare and support services. Supporting the wellbeing, safety and mental health of all of our students is always a key priority for the University. As demand has increased for our counselling services, waiting times have also alongside this (8.9 working days), however they remain significantly below the sector-wide average wait time of 52 days.

“Earlier this year the University signed up to Big White Wall, and can now offer 24 hour online mental health support to all students. The move to remote learning during the pandemic has been challenging for all, and we want our students to feel connected and supported at all times.  To help students during the lockdown we have also released targeted welfare and mental health advice through our blog and podcasts.

“In keeping inclusive teaching and learning at the heart of our strategy moving forward, it will eventually become unnecessary to make special arrangements for most disabled students. Instead, their needs will have been anticipated and largely met, and they can be treated like any other student, which we know many would prefer. However, support services will still remain available and accessible at all times.

“The user response to our Sexual Violence and Harassment Service is equally encouraging to see. The University continues to work in collaboration with local services like OSARCC to provide support to anyone affected by these incidents. 

“There is always room for improvement and student feedback continues to be vital to the effectiveness of our services and the support that we provide. Where concerns are raised we commit to engaging constructively with students to address them.”

Oxford SU Disability Campaign and It Happens Here have been contacted for comment.

Image credit to James / Flickr