Ranked: How much has your college spent on in-college mental health services 2019-2021?

We asked the colleges how much they had spent on mental health services (e.g. college counselling, mental health talks) between 2019 and 2021


This past year and a bit has been tricky, to say the least. Cambridge is hard enough without two terms completed from home, bouts of self-isolation and the other effects of the pandemic. Therefore, it is no surprise that the University Counselling Service (UCS) has been overwhelmed by students reaching out for more mental health support.

Colleges are frequently cited as one of the main bases of support alongside the UCS. So, we decided to send them an FOI asking how much they had spent on in-college mental health services (including counselling and mental health talks and excluding money given to JCR/MCRs).

Ranked below are the responses from twenty-five colleges. Bear in mind that some colleges, such as Downing, Sidney Sussex and Lucy Cavendish, have contributed a much higher amount to the UCS (as shall be revealed in a later article!). 

Ranked: Expenditure per student  (average number of students from 2019-2021)

2019-2020

2019-2020: Expenditure on mental health services per student e.g. college counselling, mental health talks (excludes funds given to JCRs and MCRs) (Image credits: author’s own)

2020-2021

2020-2021: Expenditure on mental health services per student e.g. college counselling, mental health talks (excludes funds given to JCRs and MCRs) – please note that the financial year is not yet complete, so some colleges did not provide information/ gave a forecast amount (Image credits: author’s own)

A closer look at their expenditure:

What you might immediately notice is the vast disparity between the colleges. For example, in 2020-2021, Sidney Sussex spent £7.33 per student on their in-college mental health services, whilst St Catharine’s spent £161.54 per student (yep, that’s roughly 22x more). Furthermore, with the average therapy session in the UK costing between £40-60 some colleges are spending less money on in-college mental health services than a Cindies One Last Time (£25). 

St Catharine’s, alongside Queens’, is spending the most on mental health provision per student. Queens’ revealed that £162,363.24 went to its welfare team, whilst £10,218.60 went to other expenditure (the team includes two qualified therapists, a nurse registered in mental health and two pastoral figures).

A Queens’ student emphasised that the welfare teams means “you can see” “mental health specialists” with no waiting time. However, they also outlined that there is a “profound disconnect between” how Queens’ “markets itself on mental health,” and how it is perceived by the senior management.” They add this was exemplified when students returning to college for mental health reasons in Lent term were forced to “go through intrusive and traumatic application processes.”

Meanwhile, St Catharine’s has a college-employed welfare officer and is in the process of expanding their team. A JCR welfare officer from St Catharine’s, Archie McCann, commented that they were “amazed and thankful” that their college ranked highest 2019-2020. Archie added that, from his knowledge, St Catharine’s seems to do “better than” other colleges in this respect, and “is always open to change and feedback.”

As you may have noticed, Downing, Lucy Cavendish and Sidney Sussex are left at the bottom of the list. The Downing JCR commented that though they will continue to discuss “increase funding for mental health services will be continued in our Education Committee meetings,” there “seems to be a misunderstanding in the data.” They add that Downing financially supports mental health services through “college counsellors, nurse’s salary, our new Head of Student Wellbeing’s salary” “Mental Health First Aid Training for staff,” and gives the JCR a “Welfare and Wellbeing Fund” that “far exceeds” £1,500.

Furthermore, as shall be revealed in another article, Downing, Lucy Cavendish and Sidney Sussex contribute roughly £20-30 more per student than other colleges to the University Counselling Service, meaning that their total expenditure on mental health services (in-college and via the UCS) balances more with other colleges. 

However, that is not to say that the disparity between other colleges can be explained away. For example, Hughes Hall and Girton contribute a lower than average amount (compared to other colleges) to in-college mental health services and to the UCS. These figures reinforce previous student frustrations at the lack of standardisation between colleges, as shown by one of the SU 2020 campaigns for undergraduate president calling for standardisation of hardship funding and student welfare support

Ranked: Total expenditure

2019-2020

2019-2020: Total expenditure on mental health services e.g. college counselling, mental health talks (excludes funds given to JCRs and MCRs) (Image credits: author’s own)

2020-2020

2020-2021: Expenditure on mental health services e.g. college counselling, mental health talks (excludes funds given to JCRs and MCRs) – please note that the financial year is not yet complete, so some colleges did not provide information/ gave a forecast amount (Image credits: author’s own)

What has it been spent on?

When The Cambridge Tab approached colleges for comment on their mental health expenditure, it was requested that they include “college counselling, mental health talks” and “exclude funds given to JCR/MCRs.” Therefore, the disparity of the colleges is likely tied to the fact that some have college counsellors and others don’t. Some also are part of the college based counselling scheme run by the University Counselling Service.

Some of the colleges included in their responses exactly what they spent money on. For example, St John’s explained that their figure includes the “cost of staff in the health and wellbeing centre” (including the college counsellor’s wages, and some of the college nurse and health and wellbeing nurse’s wages).

Others, like Robinson College, revealed that some expenditure goes to college counsellors employed by the UCS (£10,000), whilst other money (£3580) went to mental health “sessions.”

Many of the responses also included that some of their expenses went to the support of the college nurse or cited that the college nurse was also a source of mental health support for students. The student wellbeing part of the Study University of Cambridge website describes that the role of the college nurse includes “assessment, support and advice for students experiencing” “mental health worries,” and adds that they can refer you if “more specialised help or treatment is required.”

What changed from 2019-2021?

Although the financial year was not yet ended when I sent the email (some colleges included in their response that their budgeting runs to June), eleven out of eighteen colleges that responded saw an increased expenditure on mental health support this year.

Colleges A-L: Total expenditure on mental health services (2019-20 in blue and 2020-21 in yellow) (Image credits: author’s own)

 

Colleges M-Z: Total expenditure on mental health services (2019-20 in blue and 2020-21 in yellow) (Image credits: author’s own)

This is unsurprising after many students faced multiple isolations in Michaelmas term, and Lent term was done from home, leading to increased wait times for the UCS and more pressure on colleges to provide mental health services.

One student described to us how, “with the delays in the UCS,” at this time, “colleges had a greater responsibility for looking after their students.” They added that their college “did not step up, and many students felt like they thought we were all overreacting to facing a term from home.”

Hardship funds

Selwyn replied with information about the ‘Dawson fund’ rather than offering specifically describing its expenditure. Its student handbook described that the Dawson can be accessed when “the student’s tutor and Senior tutor” feel the “waiting lists at the UCS exceed” they think it is “appropriate” for the student to access.

St John’s also has a mental health fund, from which £300 can be authorised to students with a tutor’s approval. For larger amounts, it requires the signature of 10 tutors and the senior tutors. Many of the other college’s pointed towards the Crane Fund , which provides financial support to students seeking medical or mental health support for all university students.

In a year that has already been difficult enough, these breakdowns arguably reveal again the problems with the disparity between colleges. Whilst, upon application, the experience of each college is promised as very similar, these numbers reveal that the mental health support might not be. 

We’ll be back soon with a breakdown of how much each college contributed to the University Counselling Service.

Queens’ College and the University Press Office have been contacted for comment.

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 Feature images credits: Author’s own, Downing crest via Wikimedia Commons, Sidney Sussex crest via Wikimedia Commons, Queen’s crest via Wikimedia Commons, St Catharine’s crest via Wikimedia commons and money (left) via pixabay and money (right) via the noun project through the Creative Commons License