Emphasis on mental health: UGC wants all higher education institutions to have student service centres

Some higher education institutions in Bengaluru already have counselling facility, while Bengaluru University plans on ensuring that Students Services Centres are set in all colleges

May 23, 2023 12:58 pm | Updated June 08, 2023 10:12 pm IST - Bengaluru

The UGC has constituted an expert committee to comprehensively examine all issues relating to students’ mental health, physical, psychological and emotional well-being on the campus of HEIs.

The UGC has constituted an expert committee to comprehensively examine all issues relating to students’ mental health, physical, psychological and emotional well-being on the campus of HEIs. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The years of COVID-19 had a debilitating effect on not just physical health but also the mental health of people, especially youngsters and students. Robbed off their regular classroom activity and bonding with their peer, the isolation that students felt had a big impact on their state of mind.

It is in this context that University Grants Commission (UGC) has ordered the setting up of Students Services Centres (SSC) in all Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) to manage problems related to stress and emotional adjustment. It is aimed at ensuring equitable access to quality mental health services for all students.

The SSCs are expected to have standardized, systematic arrangements within the relevant provision to provide requisite support to students, especially from rural backgrounds, female students, students from diverse cultural backgrounds, and students with special needs.

SSCs in line with NEP

The UGC had constituted an expert committee to comprehensively examine all issues relating to students’ mental health and physical, psychological and emotional well-being on the campus of HEIs. The UGC is planning to implement the committee’s recommendations, including setting up of SSCs.

According to the UGC, the SSCs must have necessary resources like competent physical and mental health counsellors, physical and mental health experts, and physical and physio-psychological assessment tools to inform students, assess them, guide them, and provide necessary counselling interventions to ‘make them feel enabled, energized and independent functionaries capable of pursuing their career goals’.

The SSC will be managed by a director or dean-level position equivalent to a professor’s rank in a discipline like psychology, physical education and sports, psychiatry, social work, or sociology. This centre will conduct counselling, guidance, and physical and mental health services online, in person, through a telephone helpline, or in group counselling sessions, depending upon the circumstances.

The SSC will work as a single-window system to address relevant student issues. It will also maintain separate records of students appearing to be more vulnerable and stress-prone for further support and resilience-building exercises. The aim is to reduce dropout rates.

Psychologists believe that this indeed is the need of the hour, especially in the post-COVID situation. Said consultant psychiatrist Dr. Priti Shanbhag, “There were online classes during COVID, but there was no effective learning. Many students were engaged in chatting with their friends, browsing etc., while classes were on. A lot of children had deficits in attention and learning. They were regressing in their educational level and social skills,” she explained, adding that a lot of frustration was building up because of too much addiction to social media and lack of exposure to social situations.

“Apart from this, we have also seen a lot of children getting addicted to online gaming and online gambling, getting into relationships through online portals which are not safe,” she added. 

Dedicated, trained professionals

As per the UGC directive, SSC will have some dedicated, professionally trained counsellors working. The counsellors can also be taken from the respective institutions’ psychology and physical education departments in a project-driven mode. It is assumed that students’ mental health and well-being-related issues will need greater attention during the transitional phases of their life, such as examinations and different stages of their careers, as per UGC’s guidelines.

These centres are to work in close collaboration with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals of the medical institutions located in the vicinity. The HEIs should plan for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with premier institutions, like NIMHANS and other institutions, where departments of psychiatry are fully functional in case particular pharmacological intervention or other medical interventions are required.

The coordination of SSCs with various centres like SC/ST cells, Gender Equity Centres, and Student Welfare Committees should be ensured. The HEIs must respect linguistic, religious, cultural and social diversity and ensure that counsellors with efficient linguistic skills can impart services to students and teachers. Special care may be taken for LGBTQ+ students.

Emphasis on physical activity

The UGC has stressed that HEIs should focus on the physical fitness and physical activities of students. However, physical activity is not mandatory in many institutions despite higher education institutions having sufficient human resources and infrastructure for physical and sports activity.

The UGC has expressed regret about this and stated: “It is a great irony that sports fees are charged to each student admitted to the institution. Still participation in sports activity or utilization of sports facilities is done by only 1 or 2% of the total strength of the students in HEIs. Physically inactive campus life for the students leads them towards various psycho-somatic disorders.”

Therefore, UGC suggests that all HEIs create the necessary outdoor and indoor sports facilities and infrastructure on the campus. There should be a state-of-the-art gymnasium and yoga centre. They should regularly organize self-defence training programmes, especially for girl students.

Some higher education institutions already have such centres, many run by their own Psychology department, while are in the process of putting them in place.

Dr. Jayakara S.M., Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University said, “We have a counselling centre on our Jnanabharathi campus and it is successfully running being run by the Psychology Department. Students are using this facility and getting counselling. I will issue orders to all the higher educational institutions which come under our University to set up a counselling centres and appoint counsellors.”

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