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Clarification provided on Monday that a total of €5 million has been allocated to support student wellbeing and mental health, has been welcomed by the Union of Students in Ireland.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris had previously announced that €3 million would be provided for student mental health services, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, for higher education institutions currently planning to re-open for the new academic year.

The USI had sought clarity on whether this was in addition to the €2 million announced for 2020 by previous Minister, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

Minister Harris has confirmed the full package is €5 million, with an extra €3 million being allocated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welcoming the funding, USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “The original €2 million funding for 2020 was announced late last year after lobbying by the USI as a result of the publication of our Student Mental Health report, which found that 38% of students who responded experienced extreme levels of anxiety, while 30% reported symptoms of depression. This funding was urgently needed before the pandemic and so is now required more than ever. We made additional representations to the Department and to the Minister on the need to support student mental health during this academic year so we are very glad to see that the €3 million announced in July is in addition to the €2 million.

“The increase of funds into the student counselling services is vital to tackle the waiting lists that were already there and would only get worse due to the fall-out of the pandemic. The resources being allocated to the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland are much needed and will go a long way towards supporting the valuable work they do to support students. While we are delighted to see this very needed funding allocation, we need annual funding to be ring-fenced for wellbeing initiatives and counselling services to continue this work.

“We understand funding will also go towards developing the Consent Framework in HEIs, which the results of our recent Sexual Experiences Survey in partnership with Active Consent showed is urgently required and to the implantation of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, which is set to be published in the near future.”

Describing the funding as a “significant progressive step,” the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland also welcomed the funding.

PCHEI Chairperson, Gertie Raftery said: “Our services were severely over-stretched prior to COVID-19, and we now know so much more about the impacts COVID-19 and associated restrictions have had on our young people, our college students. This funding means we can reduce waiting times for counselling appointments and increase capacity.

“Our returning and incoming students are central to Ireland’s recovery from COVID-19. They are our future. But we won’t just take care of them for who they will become, we will take care of them because it’s the right thing to do, and on campus, we have huge opportunity to do so.”

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