Number of undergraduate students declaring a disability rises to 18%, annual report finds

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Image Description: An aerial view of Oxford including the Radcliffe Camera, All Souls College and the High Street.

The University of Oxford this week revealed that the number of undergraduates declaring a disability has now risen to 18% of the total student body. The largest single group reported mental health conditions, with 26.9% of this group suffering from anxiety.

These findings were part of the University’s annual statistics for the Oxford Counselling, Disability Advisory and Sexual Violence and Harassment Services, in the 2018-19 academic year.

The report found that there has been a significant increase in student demand for counselling, with 12.1% of the student body requiring the service. Waiting times have increased slightly to 8.9 working days which is still far below the sector-wide average wait of 52 days.  However, the report also highlighted concerns surrounding resourcing levels and underserving students with the average number of sessions per student at an all- time low of 3.1.

The Disability Advisory Service has responded to the increase in mental health difficulties by creating a specialist mental health advisor team in 2019 and recruiting more advisors to lower the student to advisor ratio.

Launched in 2018-19, the Sexual Violence and Harassment service was accessed by 150 female and 21 male users. The largest individual group of students seeking support was 2nd year undergraduates reporting an incident of rape or sexual assault that happened in or around fresher’s week the previous year. The service also supported 9 students who were accused of sexual assault.

Student feedback on the services has generally been positive. 95% of students rated the Counselling Service as either good or very good, whilst 90% of students reported that their support arrangements from the Disability Advisory Service had been helpful. However, student feedback on the Sexual Violence and Harassment Service is far more limited, with only 10 responses received from the 52 students contacted in a 2018 survey.

95% of students rated the Counselling Service as either good or very good, whilst 90% of students reported that their support arrangements from the Disability Advisory Service had been helpful.

The Oxford Student contacted students who have received support from these services for comment on their own experiences.

Jamie Slagel, a student at Jesus College said of the Disability Advisory Service: ‘My experience with the DAS has been mixed. On the whole I’d say it’s been positive but I have found that coordinating what has been agreed with the DAS with college and departments has been tricky.’

‘I initially met with the DAS during fresher’s week and we agreed on my right to access lecture recordings – I found my one-on-one meeting to be helpful to understanding what support was available. But this was never implemented for bureaucratic reasons I never really understood.’

‘…as a departmental student rep I had to fight long and hard to gain access to recorded lectures (for all such students) as had been agreed with the DAS.’

‘I greatly appreciated the support of the DAS during that time and I found them very useful in helping me consider different forms of assessment, managing my illness, and balancing my health checkups at home with my degree in Oxford. And as a JCR welfare officer, I’m aware of the brilliant support it offers to many students in our JCR. While there have been some stumbling blocks, the DAS has been a fantastic resource supporting me through my time at Oxford.’

As a welfare officer, Jamie is also able to share his experience of the Counselling Service: ‘The counselling service has been a marvellous service in supporting students of our JCR and I know that many have received support there.’

‘Personally, I also underwent 24 hours of peer support training provided by the counselling service and I could not recommend it more highly.’

‘I have also attended a workshop on perfectionism which I found very useful. I know the counselling service offers lots of similar workshops on a variety of topics and I’d definitely recommend them to others. I know I’ll be going to the one on exam stress next year!’

Memoona Ahmed, a University College student said of the Disability Advisory Service and the Counselling Service: ‘I’ve accessed the disability advisory service: they’re really friendly and want to help you at every step, especially if you find it difficult to fill forms out and go through their process! Having extra time has taken a lot of pressure off of me and their provisions (a printer, lecture recording software and more) have been great!’

‘The counselling service is incredible. Despite their huge waiting lists they do try and see you as soon as they can, and I felt totally supported by my counsellor all the way through. She tailored sessions to how I would most benefit from them and made sure I had other support too. The waiting times are frustrating, and I would like to see more resources invested into the service as it is so valuable and so important.’

Gillian Hamnett, Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, said in response to the findings outlined in the report: ‘We are pleased and heartened to see such high levels of satisfaction from students using our welfare and support services.’

‘There is always room for improvement and student feedback continues to be vital to the effectiveness of our services and the support that we provide.’

Image Credit: Sidharth Bhatia