After holding consultations with 140 people in January 2021, the government of Quebec has released its action plan for student mental health in higher education. However, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), which represents the Fédération de la recherche et de l’enseignement universitaire du Québec, and the Union étudiante du Québec (UÉQ) have expressed reservations about the scope of this initiative.
Introduced on Sept. 2 by Danielle McCann, Quebec’s minister of higher education, the plan aims to deploy more resources and create programs and tools for mental health starting this fall.
The plan is divided into four major focus areas and includes 20 different actions. It comes with a budget of $60 million over five years. This investment will be shared between Quebec college and university systems.
Ultimately, the government hopes that the implementation of this plan will lead to a cultural shift around mental health throughout the province, ensure welcoming campuses that allow students to “flourish in safe, healthy environments that promote positive mental health,” prevent psychological distress and mental health disorders by supporting the student population, and make mental health services more accessible to students.
“It’s important to note that our action plan is not only a response to the current public health crisis,” Ms. McCann said. “In the future, this plan will enable us to support all the institutions in the college and university systems and ensure that they have the tools they need to address the mental health disorders faced by students.”
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While the UÉQ welcomes the investments announced by the ministry of higher education and believes that the action plan as a whole “reflects the demands of the student community for mental health support at Quebec’s universities,” it also has certain misgivings about the plan.
“In particular, our concerns relate to whether these funds will be adequate for institutions to implement the proposed actions,” said UÉQ president Samuel Poitras in an email to University Affairs. “Certain universities, and especially smaller institutions, could use up their funds just by hiring the project managers needed to coordinate the work.”
This concern is also shared by the CSQ, which wrote in an op-ed piece that the action plan “appears too modest to respond to the many current needs in this area.” The union argued that since the funds will have to be shared among 87 institutions, the allotted investment is “clearly insufficient.”
Mr. Poitras also has misgivings about the implementation of the measures laid out in the plan. The UÉQ president said that since the document does not have a restrictive scope for universities, there is nothing requiring them to apply it exhaustively. In his opinion, the most urgent need is still increasing accessibility to psychological counselling for the university community.
“In the longer term, this plan should lead to a change in culture at universities that emphasizes the importance of a healthy academic environment and destigmatizes mental health problems. In particular, educational institutions will need to revise their rules and their institutional policies to develop a structure that limits negative impacts on mental health,” he concluded.
At the Université de Montréal, where the minister presented the action plan, the government investment was positively received. U de M rector Daniel Jutras said he is counting on the funds to be able to solidify certain mental health resources put in place during the current health crisis.
“During the pandemic, universities have had to adapt their psychological support services for students who have borne the burden of isolation, anxiety, sleep disorders and loss of motivation,” Mr. Jutras noted. “Our task now is to do everything we can to make these services permanent with the help of this new investment from the government, and to ensure that the experience we’ve gained during the pandemic in terms of success and mental health will benefit future students.”