As of September 20, the $20 registration fee instituted earlier this year to access Mental Health or Counselling Services is no longer in effect. Students who have already paid the fee will be reimbursed.
The fee was officially announced on September 1, but after being brought to the attention of the Fee Advisory Committee, it was determined that the $20 would constitute a mandatory fee and therefore have to be subject for a student referendum before it could be approved.
Jana Luker, Executive Director of Student Services, told The Daily in an interview that this was a best case scenario. “It’s something we didn’t want to do in the first place [… so] in the end, it kind of worked out well.”
According to the press release, despite the loss of revenue that the fee would have brought in, there will be no reductions in service. Luker also pointed out that the staff hired in anticipation of the income generated by the fee are already on contract, and so waiting times should not be affected by the cancellation of this fee.
The $20 registration fee was implemented in May for Mental Health Services, and in the beginning of September for Counselling Services. Although the direct fee was thought up years ago to increase accessibility to Mental Health and Counselling services, Luker told The Daily, it was because of deep budget cuts that the fee was implemented.
Mental Health and Counselling Services both fall under the funding of Student Services, which lost almost $500,000 after university-wide budget cuts. Although 70 per cent of Student Services’ funding comes from student fees, 30 per cent comes from the University’s operating budget.
SSMU VP University Affairs Joey Shea expressed her support for the cancellation of the fee, but cautioned against taking it too positively.
“I definitely think it’s a good thing [for students]. I also think we have to be careful about thinking it’s too much of a good thing, because it should never [have been] there in the first place,” said Shea.
Dr. Vera Romano, Director of Counselling Services, said that Counselling Services welcomed the cancellation “since Counselling Services is deeply rooted in the social justice model” with respect to the services offered. Romano also added that Counselling Services places “paramount importance” on accessibility to students.
According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens in the press release announcing the fee change, there was a significant amount of support from students for the fee. Luker echoed this statement: “We never had any pushback from the students, they were so supportive,” she said.
Now, it is up to Student Services and the administration, along with a variety of working groups, to come up with new ways to find more money for Mental Health and Counselling Services.
“Given the pressing and growing need for these services, we will take steps to reallocate resources within Student Life and Learning and we will actually try to improve the service, even without the fee,” Dyens said in the press release. “We are hoping to keep the service open longer, in fact, and once we get the new details in place, we will make them widely known.”
However, the reallocation of resources will be through “nickel-and-diming” or innovative initiatives, Luker said. “I just want to stress that this is not going to be at the expense of something else, because that’s not an option. And we aren’t going to go to referendum, so we’re not going to find another way to make students pay more, because that’s the whole point, is getting away from that. I think it’s really about more creative ideas.”
The 15 or 16 session cap for Counselling and Mental Health Services, respectively, will remain in place. “Obviously it’s the same thing: no one would be denied further treatment [… but] we’re going to try and maintain a sort of short-term therapy model without being limiting,” Luker said, adding that the average person usually only had around six sessions.
“We think that if there’s the goal and people know that, they’ll be working with the clinicians towards that goal,” Luker added.
According to the press release, the future of additional funding for Mental Health and Counselling Services will be discussed at the joint meeting of Senate and Board of Governors on November 12.