Minutes from a meeting of the University Management Team (UMT) last February states that the UCD Counselling Service must partially out-source services to cope with demand and that it is not economically viable to hire more staff to cope with excess demand during peak months.

The College Tribune has obtained minutes from a UMT meeting held on the 18th of February describing a need to sub-contract services during peak counselling periods.  During the months of September and October, on-campus resources are unable to accommodate all students and must transfer some to services elsewhere. According to the university, it is not economically sound to employ additional counsellors on-site for such a short period.

This comes in response to a list of demands made by the Student Union including the end of out-sourcing of services, the removal of the annual counselling appointment cap and providing staff with sexual assault/violence training. Speaking to The College Tribune, Ruairí Power, the SU Welfare Officer, explained that UCD Counselling Service provides vital assistance for students experiencing mental health difficulties and that both on-campus and free external services are provided by UCD. However, “in light of increased demand for these services arising out of Covid-19, there is an urgent need for the university to ramp up investment in mental health supports for students.” 

He added that while some measures have been taken to support the future development of the service such as employing a clinical lead and additional counsellors, it is not enough. “The University currently spends more on business class flights than it does on the counselling service. Supporting the service with the necessary funds is a matter of priorities. We are calling for a fully costed and clinician-led development plan for the future of the service to be prepared and published as a matter of urgency, as recommended by a 2017 review of the service.”

Power also stated that the growing reliance on external counselling services needs to be addressed “As reported by The University Observer last year, the referrals to the external providers have increased by 2500% since the scheme was introduced. While it’s welcome that external options have assisted in the reduction of waiting times, management of the service must be based in evidence-led policy and not just cost-effectiveness.” He concluded that “public institutions should be aiming to provide security of tenure to additional staff, not contributing to the commodification of mental healthcare services as a cost-cutting exercise.” 

The College Tribune reached out to UCD Student Support Services but did not receive comment at time of publishing.

Emma Hanrahan – Reporter