In a win for Auckland students, the government has announced an expansion of campus mental health services this semester. But with reports of students struggling to access hardship funding, some say more should be done to ensure student wellbeing for all.
The government has dedicated $3.8M of well-being support for Tertiary students in Tāmaki from the $25M 2020 Tertiary Student Mental Wellbeing package, which aims to meet students’ needs during COVID-19. Green Party Spokesperson for mental health, Chlöe Swarbrick and Minister of Health Andrew Little visited UoA, AUT, and Massey’s Auckland campus to share the announcement with student leaders.
Little stated that around 80,000 students will benefit from “mental health promotion activities, wider access to talking therapies, drug and alcohol help, [and] student-led initiatives.” The funding will also provide targeted support for Māori, Pacific, and Rainbow students. UoA will receive a total of $2.113M until June 30 2023, with a possible further year of funding.
The University told Craccum they consulted with AUSA and the Kaiārahi and Tuakana network to determine how the funding could be best applied. Services being expanded include Te Papa Manaaki Campus Care, AUSA care packages, and Puawaitanga, the University’s phone counselling service. Student initiatives like the Wellbeing Ambassador Programme have been prioritised, and a new Rainbow specialist mental health practitioner is being appointed.
UoA will also appoint a Kaiārahi, who “support[sic] our health and wellbeing services to adopt te ao Māori, [and work] across the University community…to understand the needs of our Māori student[s].”
Kyla Campbell-Kamariera, Tumuaki of Te Mana Ākonga, the National Māori Tertiary Students’ Association, told Craccum that they welcome targeted wellbeing support for tauira Māori.
“I hope the funding will support the work that Māori students’ associations have already been championing since before the pandemic. Activities where relationships are fostered among students and support networks are particularly important. At a time where [we are] physically isolated… we need to stay emotionally and spiritually connected. This speaks to the way Māori and Pacific peoples are raised in their respective communities.”
Although the additional funding is welcome news, it was recently reported that more than $2.5M of COVID-19 hardship money had not been paid out to Tertiary students, despite some struggling to survive during the pandemic.
Andrew Leessels, National President of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) told Craccum that the Government’s approach to student hardship is “inaccessible” and “dehumanising.”
NZUSA has previously advocated for a Universal Education Income (UEI) for all tertiary students.
“A UEI is an expensive ask; we’ve costed it at $2.5 billion. There is a cost to investing in the well-being of our students, but there’s an even greater cost if we don’t. People are dying with student debt from borrowing living costs on their loans and setting back their lives by a decade. If we support them before they fall off the cliff, we won’t need the ambulance at the bottom.”
Te Mana Ākonga’s Tumuaki says that inability to afford necessities is currently impacting the wellbeing of tauira outside of university. “Food, housing, and the cost of petrol [are] at a crazy high at the moment, [and] is expected to increase further. It is not an option to under-spend COVID-19 hardship money when money in the pockets of tauira could mean the difference between sickness and health.”
UoA confirmed that all hardship funding provided for 2021 has been allocated to students and says they are on track to distribute all of the money for 2022. “In 2021, the University contributed $500K to the Student Emergency Fund. We also received an additional $1.6M in funding in October 2021 from the Government’s Hardship Fund for Learners. All of this funding was spent on students who applied for it… [we] provide accommodation subsidies, food, and direct cash payments.”
The University says they will continue to discuss hardship issues affecting students with AUSA. Funding for further services in universities across the country is expected to be announced soon.