U of A to receive more mental health funding this year

The Government of Alberta has committed $25.8 million towards mental health programs in the province’s post-secondary institutions.

The money will be spent over a three-year period, with $8.9 million to be allocated later this year. In the past, institutions only received funding on a per-year basis.

Last year, the province granted $3.6 million for mental health programming to five post-secondary institutions, with the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge receiving $1 million, $900,000, and $600,000 respectively. According to Student’s Union vice-president (external) Reed Larsen, these grants were renewed annually, so the new three-year agreement provides a sense of stability.

“There was no long-term planning to (the old system) and there was no accountability for it,” he said.

While the government has yet to announce how much money will go toward the U of A, it has committed to a per-student system of distribution, meaning the amount of money each institution receives will depend on the number of students enrolled. Compared to other schools in Alberta, the U of A is the largest post-secondary institution with around 37,800 students, followed by U of C with 30,500 and U of L with 8,600. Students’ Union vice-president (student life) Ilya Ushakov called the new arrangement “more balanced.”

Talking about the success of the agreement, Larsen said he gives “100 per cent” of the credit to the work done by the Council of Alberta University Students, which he chairs. Larsen said that per-student provincial mental health funding and increased long-term funding have been areas of focus for CAUS advocacy in the last three years.

“There will be steps going forward, more internal allocations and stuff like that, but overall I find it to be an incredible win for student advocacy,” Larsen said.

According to Larsen, CAUS had asked the government for about $140 per student, though it’s unclear what will be received per student until more details are released in the fall.

As for how the money will be spent, Ushakov said it will be determined once it’s known how much the U of A will receive.

“Some of it will go back into services, but if we have extra funding, we will enhance and grow services and make them more accessible,” he said.

In addition to the funding commitment, the Government of Alberta has a seven step plan to promote positive mental health in post-secondary institutions. These steps include:

  • Having better coordination with Alberta Health Services
  • A one-time, two-year grant opportunity to support indigenous post-secondary students’ mental health
  • Reviewing student aid policies

Larsen said that a review on student aid policies is one of the biggest steps going forward since students risk not receiving their student loans if they choose to take time away from academic work, which can be a hard choice when they have a mental health concern. Such a review could mean that students will continue to have financial support should they need to take time off.

“It’s a huge win for us but the fight is not over,” Ushakov said. “We have to keep making sure and enhancing our services after the three years.”