Defend health, childcare and pastoral care at Sussex and Brighton!

This article was written by students at Sussex. Students who are facing similar welfare cuts at other institutions should get in touch with – litawallis@live.co.uk

As part of a scheme to ‘improve financial efficiency,’ the management at Sussex University have proposed vast cuts and redundancies to the pastoral services on campus, seemingly without taking their potentially massive effects into consideration. The Sussex campus subsidised crèche and nursery service is threatened with closure or privatisation, UNISEX, (Brighton and Sussex Universities’ sexual health and drugs awareness centre,) is also threatened with closure and redundancies of eleven out of our sixteen student advisors are proposed. These cuts cannot help but impact on student and staff welfare, but also have adverse effects on public servies elsewhere, which the management do not seem to have accounted for.

Many of the students at Sussex are devastated, and deeply anxious in response to the proposals to make the majority of our Student Advisors redundant. Currently, the Advisors operate departmentally, as a specially trained team to help with the plethora of issues that arise for students while they are at university; including debt, work-management, abuse, bereavement, anxiety, depression and illness. Without this service, the dropout rate at Sussex could soar; students will risk their studies being affected by adverse circumstances which are out of their control, not to mention issues of mental health. There is already a high demand for counselling services both within the wider health system and on campus, and the psychiatric help offered on campus would not be adequate in replacing the multifarious roles performed by the Student Advisors.

UNISEX is another invaluable on-campus service that advises both Brighton and Sussex students, specifically on sex, drugs and alcohol related issues. Having this kind of service available is essential to student welfare, especially in the context of the soaring rates in the UK of sexual violence (1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted in their lives), sexually transmitted infections (1 in 10 young people carry Chlamydia) and binge drinking/drug taking issues. Partly because of its on-campus position and unintimidating, specialised service, UNISEX is popular: 600 students use the drop-in service annually and even more use the texting and online services. If the proposals go ahead to close UNISEX, these students will inevitably be forced to go to the NHS for support, assuming they are willing and able to go for help elsewhere. UNISEX also reach many students through campaigning and outreach work; a campaign regarding sexual safety on campus is currently in the pipeline. These sorts of campaigns are especially important in the context of most of the UK’s Rape Crisis centres having been closed. We are in the process of contacting NHS officials to enquire as to whether they believe that sexual health and advice services in the Brighton area will be equipped to deal with this massive influx of students on their resources.

Getting rid of subsidised childcare at Sussex would have terribly destructive results, firstly in terms of gender equality. Women take on the majority of childcare in the UK and therefore female students and staff trying to balance their degrees or jobs with childcare would suffer most from a closure. This is especially significant, as Sussex has repeatedly been shown up to be lagging in the area of gender equality in recent years (little action has been taken after this was highlighted in a 2007 report). Affordable, reliable childcare is hard to find in the UK. As Sussex is an out of town university, it is unlikely that parents will find nearby affordable facilities that are able to accommodate the full number of children who make use of the centre. The loss of this service at Sussex will certainly result in the loss of prospective, and current, high quality students and staff.

In response to questions on how they intend to deal with these sorts of changes, the university management propose the merging the work of the student advisory service and UNISEX into a new “Student Life Centre”. Placing a new label over this massive down-sizing does not cover up the fact that four student advisors will not be able to take on the work that is currently dealt with by a team of sixteen, as well as that covered by the staff at UNISEX, especially when both services are already stretched to the limit. Students at Sussex and Brighton Universities implore our local NHS services to help us make the management see sense! Presumably, other universities across the country will not be short-sighted enough to be making similar decisions, but just in case, it is essential that public health and welfare services across the nation put pressure on these establishments to ensure that they take into account the devastating impact their decisions could have, both on individuals, and the existing care services.

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