Liberal Democrats stand on King's ParadeLucas Chebib

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron was in Cambridge on Tuesday as he publicly backed his party’s student wing at the university in its campaign to increase funding, staffing and resources for the University Counselling Service (UCS) that the Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats (CSLD) has branded “under-funded, under-resourced, and under-staffed”.

Flanked by former Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, Farron addressed a rally of student Lib Dems outside King’s College, where he lent his weight to proposals for the UCS to hire five more counsellors.

Claiming that the change would make an “immense” difference to students suffering from mental health problems, Farron favourably compared the campaign to those he pursued as a student at Newcastle University in the 1990s.

In contrast to campaigns that felt “borderline esoteric”, he stated: “you couldn’t get anything more visceral, more important than people’s mental health and the reality of having to wait many, many, many weeks, some people having to wait two months for a counselling session when they are in a very extreme set of circumstances.”

Speaking to activists following his speech, the Lib Dem leader emphasised the need for early intervention before symptoms worsen. He said, “When you can provide that support relatively early on, you can prevent [symptoms from] being more personally catastrophic [and] more expensive.”

The CSLD campaign has focused on what committee member Matthew Isaacs called the “under-funded, under-resourced, and under-staffed” nature of the UCS.

Isaacs added: “Cambridge is privileged as being not just one of the richest universities in the country, but one of the richest institutions, yet it currently does not pay for any of the counselling service […] We feel that the university should recognise its unique position where it has the resources to make a real difference to students at the university and provide extra funding to the [UCS].”

Sophie Bell, Chair of CSLD, warned that the university could have “a big mental health crisis on its hands” if it “continue[d] to ignore mental health for much longer”, stating that she was “embarrassed by the shocking level of funding that the university gives mental health services, especially a university as demanding as Cambridge.”

She added that she was “angry that the richest university in the country by a long shot isn't first by a long shot” in the provision of mental health services.

Bell also praised Tim Farron’s appearance, saying that it was “absolutely wonderful” and that his signing the petition would be a shot in the arm for the campaign.

Concerning the funding for mental health services, a university spokesman said: “The University of Cambridge and its colleges take student mental health very seriously and we welcome this recognition of its importance.

“The level of support available to students at [Cambridge] is unparalleled in most other universities and is complemented by the comprehensive, college-specific services which are also available.”

The university claimed that only 1,570 people, or 8.6 per cent of the student population were seen for counselling, of whom 93 per cent said that counselling had helped them deal with their difficulties.