‘It’s a publicity stunt’: Why unis parading alpacas as therapy doesn’t help students

‘It’s the entire structure of the academics of the uni that damages people’s mental health’

Last year the University of Edinburgh spent over £1,300 on “Therapets”, a scheme to reduce student stress through petting animals.

However, in the same time frame, The Edinburgh Tab found more than a third of students had to wait more than three weeks for an appointment from the Student Counselling Service, and there was just one counsellor for every 2,000 students.

Last week, the University of Oxford got in on the act. The university paraded a herd of alpacas outside the Radcliffe Camera Library in the midst of exam season in a bid to improve the “wellbeing” of stressed-out students. However, as unis point towards research which herald the schemes, we asked students what they really think.

Ben, a current Oxford student and JCR Welfare Officer, defended the project, arguing that some people really benefit from it.

“From experience welfare animal visits go down really well; we’ve had therapy dogs a few times which is always well attended. People seem to feel really calm around animals I guess, reminds them of home often.”

However second year Oxford student, Emma, argued animal therapy was just for show and notes that her uni is missing the point.

The history student told The Tab: “The alpacas being in front of the RadCam in particular, where they are so prominent, very much makes it feel like a publicity stunt.

“Oxford tends to do this thing where they’ll bring people a petting zoo or provide free food but it’s the entire structure of the academics of the uni that damages people’s mental health.”

She added: “With the workload being so intense going to see some alpacas would actually probably make someone like me more stressed because I would have lost half an hour I could have spent working.”

The university took to Instagram afterwards to display the alpacas, writing the caption: “As part of the @bodleianlibraries‘ initiative to support well-being across the university, the library hosted a drop-in session for students and staff to meet and pet a small herd of alpacas.”

But it isn’t only Oxford and Edinburgh who are spending their budget on wellbeing animals.

Final year York student, Emily, spoke to The Tab about her college’s “destress with dog petting” scheme.

“They do get slated a lot,” she said. “People argue ‘you can’t stroke a dog once and suddenly all your mental health struggles are gone.’”

But Emily feels they have a positive impact. “I find it to be a stress reliever mid-revision and it’s quite nice when I miss my dogs.”

However, she explains that it can’t be the only thing universities do in support of student mental health.

“As long as the uni is helping with mental health in other aspects it’s great. I think when that’s the only thing a uni is doing then money can definitely be put towards other mental health services such as therapy appointments as the waiting time is often so bad.”

Katrina, a student at the University of Bristol told The Tab her university has gone as far as using animals to incentivise students to vote.

“They’ve brought in dogs for several reasons for example to get people to vote at the SU elections they had dogs at polling stations this year. But I think there are things such as improving library spaces, making sure all plugs work or having more spaces open on the weekend could be bettering for students’ mental health especially during exam season.”

Gabby, a fellow Bristol student studying Veterinary Medicine, agreed. “I mean I think it’s a good idea but really they should be focusing on the reason students are so stressed,” she explained.

“A puppy isn’t going to fix being overloaded with content!”

A University of Oxford spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We take the wellbeing of our student and staff seriously; initiatives such as those held during Mental Health Awareness Week have been popular within the University of Oxford community.

Outside of these, we also offer a wide range of comprehensive welfare structures and services, as well as specialist support for students who experience mental health difficulties.”

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