This week a Quality Service to Students meeting was held in which representatives of the UTM Students’ Union voted against tuition increases of up to $11.74 per session. This may seem like a win for the students, but it is in fact a loss. The proposed increase in tuition was, in part, to bring on more staff at the Health and Counselling Centre.
The HCC is an essential service for many students on campus. The services they provide include medical care, personal counselling, psychiatry support, and nutritional counselling. There are, however, not enough staff in the centre to aid the increasing student population. We have about four mental health professionals for over 12,600 undergraduate students. Did you know that the wait time to speak to a mental health specialist is more than two weeks? This is an incredibly long time for someone who may need immediate assistance.
The HCC thus asked for a 10.11% increase in their budget to bring on more staff. This translates to roughly $3.34, which UTMSU turned down. Their argument was that the added staff would be administrative. But this administrative staff would be responsible for leading a group of 50+ student volunteers as part of the Peer Health Education and Outreach program. The Peer Health Educators are responsible for reaching out to students about services available on campus. It is surprising that in such a large student body, many students are still unaware of these services or even where the HCC is located. This is why a program like this is important. Furthermore, the administrative staff the HCC proposed to hire would be a medical professional. They would be responsible not only for keeping the PHE program running but also for providing their expertise to students in the HCC.
Another personnel that the HCC was looking into hiring was a mental health professional. A major error being made by UTMSU is simplifying mental health. Mental health is not just a byproduct of increased tuition. Their argument is that by dealing with the “root” of the problem, decreasing tuition, they will be able to solve students’ mental health issues. But there are many other factors involved. The mere transition from high school to university can cause mental health issues. Other factors include relationship challenges, emotional or social concerns, exam anxiety, family conflict, self-esteem issues, and many others. Even with programs such as group counselling put in place by the HCC, it’s not enough. This is why it is important to have more professionals added to the team to reduce wait times for students and provide them with the assistance they need.
UTMSU may think that they are doing the students a favour by rejecting an increase in their tuition, but in reality they are just stripping students of a chance at better and quicker service that the HCC can provide for their mental well-being.