Oxford city viewed from Hinksey Hill. Rob Judges Photography
Oxford city viewed from Hinksey Hill. Rob Judges Photography

Reports highlight changing use of student welfare services during the pandemic

New reports from the University’s welfare services reveal insights into the experiences of students using Oxford’s Counselling, Disability Advisory and Sexual Harassment and Violence Support services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The University of Oxford has today published its Student Support and Welfare Services (SWSS) Reports for the 2020/21 academic year.  The Reports provide insights into the experiences of students using the University’s Counselling, Disability Advisory, and Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Services, and reveal an increase in demand for SWSS services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In total, there were more than 10,800 student contacts with SWSS in 2020/21.

The University’s Counselling Service was used by 3,440 students (13.5% of the student body), increasing by 7.6% on last year.  Due to COVID-19, therapeutic provision and training was offered online, and a series of blogs and podcasts designed to support students during the pandemic were also made available.  More than a third of students were seen in less than 5 working days, with an average waiting time of 9.3 working days.  Several counsellors of colour joined the Counselling Service as part of the University’s wider commitment to diversity.

The Disability Advisory Service (DAS) saw continued demand for its services from the student community, with almost a quarter of students (24.3%) now registered.  This increased from 21.5% in the previous year to well above the national average (14.5%).  The largest group receiving support remains those with mental health and specific learning difficulties – consistent with the wider sector.   Student Support Plans, which provide personalised recommendations for individual support, are now in place for 43% of DAS users, up from 35% in 2019/20. The numbers of students seeking a specific learning difficulty diagnostic assessment also increased.

Against a backdrop of increased awareness of sexual violence and pandemic lockdowns, the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service received 224 referrals, a 21% increase on the previous year.  Support provided typically related to serious sexual violence cases, with students seeking support from University or college processes rather than reporting incidents to the Police.  Sexual harassment accounted for just 7% of cases.  Training across the Collegiate University was updated and increased, and a review of student consent training is currently underway.

Rotimi Akinsete, Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to have a considerable impact on Oxford University students in 2020/21, and we saw increased demand for the services of SWSS across the board. 

A number of important steps forward were made in our continued efforts to improve the provision of services.  For example, additional resources were provided to the Counselling services through the newly-formed Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) working group, reflecting the unprecedented challenges faced by students during the pandemic.  Building on the University’s commitment to diversity, several counsellors of colour also joined the Counselling Service. 

Since joining the University last year, I have been proud of the hard work undertaken by SWSS colleagues to support students through this difficult time.  We continue to look at ways to improve SWSS to support the wellbeing, safety, and mental health of our student body and ensure that all students have access to the services they need.'