St Chad’s College has furloughed student support staff despite concerns about what one student petition called “a growing student mental health crisis”. The staff were furloughed for financial reasons.
Ewan Swift, Durham SU Welfare and Liberation Officer, told Palatinate: “It’s clear that the decision to furlough support staff was an internal decision made to protect the financial sustainability of the college, however, in doing so this is sadly limiting the routes for Chad’s students to access support.”
“Given the growing student mental health crisis, routes to support should be opening up, not shutting down, and so we believe that the college should receive assistance so that it is able to provide its students equal access to student support.”
“Whilst the University has a confidential memorandum of understanding with Chad’s regarding funding, we believe that the University has a responsibility to all its students to ensure that they have equal access to student support. Therefore, we would like to see the University provide financial assistance to Chad’s to mitigate against the need for the furloughing of support staff, and I have already engaged with the University about this.”
Dr Margaret Masson, Principal of St Chad’s College, told Palatinate: “We have part furloughed or furloughed a number of staff across our teams. This includes staff who have student support as part of their remit (but not the only part), and in their current working hours, these staff are prioritising student support.”
“We do believe that there is sufficient welfare provision for our students; it’s something which we see as very important – and particularly in such difficult times. If we see that the demand is greater than our current capacity, then we will bring staff back out of furlough. We appreciate your concerns that student welfare representatives are not unduly burdened at present, and are checking in with them regularly.”
Tom Wright, the college’s Senior Welfare Rep, said: “In terms of demand, we haven’t had an increase in demand so far but I expected it would increase. We continue to do biweekly drop-ins so people can still contact us and it might increase as the summative season continues.
“In terms of provisions from college, College Support Staff have done an amazing job for us in supporting us and talking to us about any concerns we have in our weekly meetings. I feel confident that if I, or any of our team, had an issue, that they would be able to support us.”
Dr Masson continued: “the University has been very supportive to the College, but we do not need extra financial support from them at this stage. We are being financially prudent, given the significant losses we have sustained over the last year due to Covid-19, and we do believe and trust that, with careful management, and thanks to the generosity of our alumni in our recent fundraising campaigns, we are sustainable in the long-term.”
Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), said: “We’re working very closely with St Chad’s, and the College has reassured us that the current welfare provision available to students is sufficient to meet demand. As would be expected St Chad’s have reassured us that, if demand changes, they will reassess the situation.”
The furloughing of staff follows an emergency appeal launched by the college over the summer where it raised over £90,000, allowing the college to adapt its facilities to create “social bubbles.” The fundraising appeal stated that the college lost around half of its expected income in the last academic year as a result of the pandemic.
In terms of the broader adequacy of Durham’s welfare provision in the face of current challenges, Ewan told Palatinate: “Although the University has lots of entry points to student support, we know that there are lots of pressures on staff and services and so would always push for greater funding for student support, especially to match demand during the pandemic. For example, we maintain communications with the Counselling Service who are able to outsource staff this term to match increasing demand which is much welcomed. “
“One issue we do see, however, is that virtual fatigue is leading to a lot of students not accessing the support groups, wellbeing classes, or direct support opportunities on offer. As always, the University needs to better promote its support offer and keep looking at how they can remove any barriers to reaching out.”
Image: Adeline Zhao