The University of York Open Door Welfare service has come under criticism from the Student Union for failing to accommodate the number of students seeking support.
Bob Hughes, YUSU Welfare Officer told Nouse, “The student population at York has grown dramatically over the past few years, but without, in my mind, the equivalent growth in support services.”
Steve Page, Director of Student Support Services told Nouse, “We have very recently moved £2,000 into the Open Door budget to buy in some additional practitioner time for the remainder of this term.”
The University stated, “Investment in Student Support Services by the University has more than kept up with increased student numbers over the past decade. In 2003, there were roughly 7,500 students at the University and 14 staff working in Student Support Services.”
The University offers its Open Door Counselling Service alongside YUSU’s Advice and Support Centre, based in the Student Centre in James College, and the student-run information service Nightline.
Students have raised concerns over the time taken to receive an appointment with the Open Door Team.
One second year Politics student revealed, “I said I had been having stress related chest pains, they gave me an appointment two weeks away, two website addresses and didn’t ask if I would be OK until then. So it is a flawed system from the offset.”
In Autumn 2012, the Student Support Services monitored the appointment system. This measured the minimum waiting times and first available appointments. It concluded, “At this stage it looks like a five working days (or better) target for 90% of the year should be realistic, if challenging.”
In 2013, there are 15,000 students and 35 staff in Student Support Services, so as student numbers have increased by 100 per cent, staff in Student Support Services has increased by 150 per cent.
Total numbers of students seen by the Open Door Team in 2011/12 was 1631, an increase of 25 per cent on the previous year.
In January, Nouse reported that the number of students reporting mental health issues to the University had doubled in the past five years.
In its annual report, Student Support Services cited, “challenges that have a direct impact on our work, examples of which include: The NHS mental health provision in the York area has been under increased pressure, with significant reductions in provision.”
As one consequence, it had, “been harder for students to access secondary support services, which may in part explain increasing numbers of students seeking support from the Open Door Team.”
Kallum Taylor, YUSU President told Nouse, “Our crisis management services are run off their feet. A genuine and large scale improvement to current provision here is needed.
“Letting student numbers rise and not having support services move with that is too risky a game.”
Tony Ward, Alcuin Provost stated, “In parallel with this growth there is also an increase in the incidence of more serious welfare issues, mainly those relating to mental health. This seems a result of increased pressure generally but also in improvements in diagnostics. All of these combined are certainly putting our systems under more pressure.”
“That said, the Open Door Team has grown in size to deal with their increased case load and the activity in certain Colleges has risen.”
The University revealed the peak demand for services such as the Open Door Team is typically weeks 5-7 in the second term of each academic year.
In the summer of 2011, the Open Door Team was short-listed for the Times Higher Education Outstanding Student Support Award, and later in the year, the Open Door Team was awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Gold Award for promoting inclusivity.
Hughes commented, “Although they do an incredibly valuable job very well in most cases, it does mean that there are periods in the year when they are stretched, such as towards the mid-to-late part of the term, and that they generally suffer from not being able to do as much proactive work as they would like.”
YUSU Welfare and the Student Support Services are planning on reviewing this in the next few months.
Jane Clarbour, Goodricke Provost told Nouse, “ I have noticed an increasing number of students coming into contact with college welfare teams for support, which to me seems a greater number than might be expected even taking the recent expansion of the colleges into consideration.”
One third year undergraduate student spoke of the Open Door, “I found the Open Door service an extremely accessible and comfortable system to use, which removes much of the stigma that students may feel about seeking help and advice.”
“One of the most useful aspects was the supplementary information and programmes of support that were suggested to me, which can be done in your own time and at your own pace.”
One second year English Student, spoke critically of her experience of two of the counsellors at the Open Door team, “One seemed entirely uninterested in what I told her, condescended to me constantly, and rapidly moved me on to someone new when I made it clear that I had problems beyond slight academic anxiety.”
A few weeks after leaving the service, the student was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder.
The University responded, “We do not comment on individual cases. All its counsellors are educated to graduate or post graduate level in counselling, and all have experience of working in higher education.
“There have been three complaints during the five years the service has been in existence.”
One student stated, “I didn’t know who to complain to and wasn’t in the right place psychologically to deal with the stress of making an official complaint.”
The University Health Centre is not part of the Student Support Services. One second year English Literature student told Nouse, “I went in to get the morning after pill at the Health Centre and they asked me if I had an appointment, to which I obviously replied no. Hence ‘emergency contraception’.
“The member of staff behind the desk then said that I’d have to wait two weeks for an appointment if I wanted to get it there.”
Hughes commented, “I’m concerned to hear some of these complaints, and I will be working with Student Support to chase these up.”
One PhD student talked of her positive experience with the Open door service, “The open door team for me have been pro-active in ensuring that I have the appropriate support from my GP and have always been there should I find myself needing an extra helping hand.”