Help at hand for students reaching out for support

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have had wide-ranging impacts on the lives of students.

All of the University of Melbourne’s studies and student services moved to virtual delivery in response to the pandemic. A new way of working emerged, with online appointments, workshops and drop-ins continuing to help students across the globe.

Student Support

The University continues to attempt to assuage the onerous and stressful conditions confronting students. More investment has gone into mental health and wellbeing capabilities, which are critical to students successfully adjusting to full-time off-site study amidst such uncertain times.

New services have been required to assist students likely to face particularly challenging circumstances. These include the newly established COVID-19 Emergency Student Support Fund and Student Support Grants, which have provided financial assistance to more than 16,500 students to date. Generous ongoing support from alumni and donors bolster the Emergency Support Fund, which is still answering the call of a student population suffering from a decimated job market, a volatile global economy and vastly changed family financial circumstances.

Existing health and wellbeing services continue to provide vital support and advice, including the University’s counselling and psychological services and health service.

Rick Spencer, a student in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, benefitted from the Emergency Student Support Fund. Allocated funds helped Rick to purchase a laptop and continue their studies.

“Without the support that the University of Melbourne has provided me, I would have had to defer my studies and recommence next year,” Rick said.

“The financial support has enabled me to purchase a laptop that can support Zoom meetings and electronic access to library resources.

“I can connect with other students. I was able to chat with the counsellors when I was feeling depressed and my resilience has improved.”

The University has seen the use of support services skyrocket. This includes a four-fold increase in the use of counselling and psychological services (including a range of online and self-help items). To try to meet demand, the University has employed more psychologists to ensure new client appointments are regularly available.

The exhausting financial, personal and academic challenges of life in lockdown have not abated. To support students outside of regular hours, the University launched an after-hours mental health crisis support line. Staff have connected with more than 3,000 students through one-on-one calls and set up virtual spaces for students to connect and socialise with peers.

Hunger meanwhile remains an all too common threat to many students. Through a partnership with not-for-profit SecondBite, the University has distributed more than 37,000 free meals to more than 8,000 students since May. In doing so, the partnership ensures that students in challenging financial circumstances can access healthy meals and be physically capable of study.

Rick said the University’s Peer Leaders, who have been busy connecting students with relevant support services such as SecondBite, have greatly assisted them through their situation.

“Accessing meals has been critical, as it has enabled me to pay my rent, medical needs and utilities without worrying if I would have enough for food,” they said.

“These nutritious meals were delicious and restaurant quality. The process of collecting them was so easy and the staff made me feel welcomed.”

Rick encouraged all students to make the most of the University’s services on offer, as it can make an enormous difference to successful study.

“I feel that the University of Melbourne has formed a partnership with me so that I can experience success in my studies and wellbeing,” they said.

“The physical isolation has been hard but having access to online learning and being able to use Zoom to communicate with other students has made my studies enjoyable.

“The academic staff at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education have been accommodating and supported the transition to online learning with ease.

“I would suggest students take advantage of the support services available if you are in need as it will enable you to have the best opportunity to successfully complete your units of study.”

Mx Rick Spencer (THey/THem) is a proud transgender teacher, activist and graduate education student.