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The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has allocated a further £3.6 million of Scottish Government funding to enhance student counselling services in colleges and universities across Scotland.

The allocation is part of a £20 million, four-year investment in mental health counselling for students. Last year saw initial Scottish Government funding of £3.6 million together with an additional £100,000 for SFC to support the set-up of the programme over its first two years. So far, almost 60 new full time equivalent counsellors have been appointed at colleges and universities across Scotland.

The money announced today is for the coming academic year and will provide additional professional counsellors, helping to ensure students can get the right help when and where they need it. Colleges and universities are also being encouraged to take advantage of some of the mental health care innovations which allow students to access support remotely, including online counselling.

The allocation comes as colleges and universities get ready for the beginning of the new academic year, and students prepare to come to terms with the uncertainties created by the pandemic.

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental and emotional health of many new and returning students. It is vital that every student can access the mental health support they need.

“The funding and guidance announced today for the academic year 2020/21 by the Scottish Funding Council is another significant milestone in delivering our 2018 Programme for Government commitment to more than eighty additional counsellors in further and higher education over four years.”

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said:

“I am delighted the Scottish Funding Council is funding these vital student counselling services. This can be an anxious time for new and returning students in terms of travel, accommodation, how teaching will work, and their own health as well as the health of friends and family. This funding for student counselling services aims to support good mental health and wellbeing at this particularly difficult time.”

Institutions such as Forth Valley College took advantage of the extra money in 2019-20 to increase the availability of their counselling services. At Forth Valley College, three new support counsellors were recruited at the end of April, which also allowed the College to provide counselling services at all three of its campuses.

Kenny MacInnes Vice Principal Learning and Student Experience at Forth Valley College, said:

“The extra funding we received earlier this year, allowed us to offer new counselling provision which was a very welcome addition to the services provided by our Student Services and the wider Equalities, Inclusion and Learning Services team.

“Our counselling provision has always been very heavily requested and due to increased demand our counselling service, at times, has been put under significant pressure, resulting in extended waiting times and delays in appointments.

“This initiative has allowed us to expand the service and, create one that is flexible to our students’ needs and I am sure the new available funding will help more colleges and universities to do the same.”

In its guidance for the use of the new money, SFC has emphasised the need for a flexible approach to providing counselling which reflects the diversity of the student population and the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic.