Exclusive: UoB spent £300k less than promised on student support services last year

The University promised an extra £1m a year would go into student wellbeing


The University of Bristol spent over £300,000 less than the amount promised for the Student Wellbeing Service in 2017/18, The Bristol Tab can reveal.

In September 2017, Bristol University announced that an additional £1 m would be invested annually to improve student support services.

However, the amount spent on the Wellbeing Service amounted to £660,000, figures obtained by The Bristol Tab show.

The FOI suggests that the total budget was not spent because the Wellbeing Service was not fully staffed by the end of the 2017/8 academic year.

Since making the pledge, the additional £1m investment has been taken as fact. When reporting on student suicides at Bristol University, the Guardian write how "Bristol recently invested an additional £1m in wellbeing services."

An article from the Sunday Times Magazine also describes how in response to the University's pastoral referendum, Hugh Brady "injected an extra £1m into student wellbeing services."

During 2017/8, 27 Student Wellbeing Advisers were recruited, of which 22 started working that academic year. A further 11 appointments were also made in 2017/8 to complete the Wellbeing team.

The remaining five Wellbeing Advisers began their roles in September 2018. Yet, an article published by the University describes how "the teams are due to start working in schools from Spring 2018."

The FOI highlighted how "establishing a large and complex service takes time, particularly in relation to the recruitment, selection, induction and ongoing training of new staff."

The total spent on staff salaries in 2017/8 across the whole Wellbeing Service amounted to £605,000 — meaning that the remaining £55,000 was put towards non-salary expenditures.

The FOI also described how "staff salaries account for the majority of the Service’s operating costs."

When investigating the expected spending for the current academic year, the FOI suggested that estimated salary spend is £1.3 m, whereas the non-salary spend forecast is £40,000 — a significant decrease from the previous academic year.

A University spokesperson told The Tab: “The Wellbeing Service forms a vital part of the overall mental health and wellbeing support the University provides to its students. Since August 1, 2018 to now the dedicated team of staff have provided advice and support to over 1,800 students and continue to assist around 850 students with ongoing issues and concerns.

“Recruiting and training this highly skilled team was not a quick or easy task and it was vitally important we took the required time and effort needed to recruit the best possible staff for this critically important team. 22 of the 27 Wellbeing Advisers were recruited in academic year 2017/18 and got straight to work providing proactive support to students and staff. The remaining five posts were recruited over the summer and were ready to start alongside their colleagues for the beginning of the new academic year in September 2018.

“This explains the fact that less than expected was spent in the first academic year but as the FOI shows this figure will increase above £1 million in the coming year. In fact, the Vice-Chancellor’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce has recently committed to fund an additional three full-time senior roles within the team.

“As well as funding staff pay the additional investment has, and will continue, to provide non-salary support through essential training, equipment and support that the team needs to provide this vital and much appreciated service.”

Photo credits: Alex Sheppard. More images can be found here.