A loud and passionate protest was held by students at UCL on Wednesday 6 December to demand increased funding for the university’s mental health service – the Student Psychological Services (SPS). The demonstration was called by the student- run campaign UCL: Fund Our Mental Health Services, and coincided with UCL’s Open Day.
The current state of the SPS is completely inadequate. Due to a lack of resources, only two-thirds of students who register for support are ever seen, the waiting list is at least six weeks long, and there is an arbitrary cap of six sessions. This is against the backdrop of the current mental health crisis amongst young people.
The demonstration was called after the campaign’s petition with over 2000 signatures was ignored by university management. At one meeting, senior managers actually laughed when the group told of the underfunding of SPS.
The demands of the protest were clear: an extra £340,000 a year is required for the SPS. Many signs on the protest directly contrasted this figure with £365,000 – the provost’s annual salary. Others simply pointed at the millions that UCL makes as a surplus each year.
Starting in the afternoon, the group of about 40 students marched with placards and megaphones around UCL campus – including through the corridors which were hosting UCL’s Open Day. Chanting “UCL – don’t neglect our mental health!” and “We’re students! We’re stressed! Fund SPS!” was kept up throughout. The protest included an impromptu sit-in directly outside the provost’s office. Needless to say, a great many heads were turned; students, staff, and visitors.
The protest was supported by UCL Marxist society, which participated in the march and held a stall at the start and finish point.
There can be no doubt the campaign is picking up steam. The demands are concrete and the students are showing the utmost resilience. It is, however, important not to lose sight of the bigger picture, by recognising that the underlying problem is the systemic running of universities as exploitative businesses. As long as the profit motive reigns supreme, the health and welfare of the students will always be put a paltry second. What is needed, and what we are fighting for, is the democratic control of all universities by and for the workers and students themselves, for the benefit of all of society.
by Edgar Sait-Jones, UCL Marxists