Written answers

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Education

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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79. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he is satisfied that all third-level institutions have sufficient mental health and well-being measures in place for their students; the further measures that are being considered to increase the current levels of supports available in third-level institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6460/22]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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My Department allocates mental health and well-being funding to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for direct disbursement to the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). As autonomous bodies, the internal disbursement of this funding, including the funding of their student services, the employment of counselling staff, and the procurement of counselling and mental health services are a matter for the individual institutions.

In 2021, €5 million was allocated to the higher education institutions to support student mental health and wellbeing. This funding allocated by the HEA included €2m delivered through the Recurrent Grant Model to HEIs, along with an additional €3m secured as part of the 2021 Covid-19 response package.

HEIs were requested to allocate funds towards student-facing services such as:

- Recruitment of additional Student Counsellors;

- Recruitment of additional Assistant Psychologists;

- Head of service posts for those HEIs employing more than 2 FTEs;

- Training of HEI staff to enable them to support and refer students to appropriate services;

- Raising awareness among students of mental health and wellbeing services available, including through student outreach activities;

- Implementation of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework;

- Implementation of the Framework for Consent in HEIs; Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive: Ending Sexual Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions.

HEIs were advised that the funding allocations were additional and intended to enhance rather than displace existing provision of student supports in the areas of mental health and wellbeing. HEIs were also advised to make provision for the sustainability of any supports funded under this allocation.

The HEA has advised my department that the impacts of the funding has led to:

- increased capacity for students to avail of mental health services, especially in the provision of one-to-one sessions, and also, access to psychologists and in some institutions, to psychiatrists;

- additional and significant provisions offered, including webinars, group sessions, online forums and the development of regular newsletters and e-zines, as well as increased social media presence;

- innovative outreach events and workshops in the areas of consent, suicide prevention and addictive behaviours;

- HEIs developing systems and structures for improving services and other activities. For example, in larger institutions, case management and triaging processes have been implemented;

- HEI staff being able to avail of training sessions on mental health, thereby, raising the profile internally within HEIs of what services and supports are available for students.

A number of National Projects have also been implemented with funding provided for Mental Health and Wellbeing. These have produced dedicated tools, focused research and professional collaboration, which will support staff, augment policy-making and the effective targeting of resources across the sector to achieve the high standards set by the respective student well-being, consent and suicide prevention frameworks.

One such project is the 'Speak Out reporting tool' which was created as part of the implementation of the Framework for Consent, which I launched on 19 October 2021. The tool allows HEIs to understand staff and student experiences of sexual harassment and violence and assists institutions, the HEA and my department in making evidence-based policy decisions in this area. Most importantly, it raises awareness of the supports available to students and staff and encourages them to seek help if they need it.

In late 2020, I launched the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework. This Framework is Ireland’s first ever national approach to address student mental health and suicide prevention. It recognises the many challenges students face, and sets out ways in which institutions can support them and respond through working proactively. The Framework provides clear guidance to higher education institutions regarding implementation of good practices in responding to student mental health difficulties.

The HEA has established a cross-sectoral ‘Connecting for Life’ working group to support the implementation of the Framework. This group will meet later this month to consider progress on the national framework and will identify examples of good practice for further sharing across the sector.


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