By Sean Willett, June 20 2017 —
The Alberta NDP is investing $25.8 million into post-secondary mental health initiatives over the next three years. Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt made the announcement Tuesday morning during the 2017 Wellness Summit, a mental health-themed event hosted at the University of Calgary.
This funding will be implemented in time to replace the government’s existing post-secondary mental health grant, which will run out of funding in July. Programs and services operating under the previous grant will continue uninterrupted.
“We know that healthy students are better able to learn and are more likely to do well and complete their studies,” Schmidt said. “This is all part of our strategy to make sure students are successful in their studies.”
Alberta’s previous government implemented a student mental health fund in 2013 that provided $9 million in funding to the University of Alberta, the University of Lethbridge and the U of C over a period of three years. Only $1.5 million was provided to support mental health programs in the province’s 23 other universities, colleges and technical schools.
“[Smaller schools] weren’t ignored entirely, but I just don’t think they were treated fairly by the system put in place by the previous government,” Schmidt said. “They didn’t receive nearly as much money as the universities did on a per-student basis, and the delivery of those mental health services could have been improved. That’s what we’re taking steps to do.”
The NDP’s new agreement will see a $5.3-million increase in campus mental health spending per year, with a focus on closing the gap in support between large universities and smaller post-secondary institutions.
“That’s where the bulk of the increase will go,” said Schmidt. “To provide better funded mental health support to students in colleges and technical schools, as well as universities.”
The funding increase was a welcome surprise for Students’ Union vice-president student life Hilary Jahelka, who was in attendance during the announcement.
“It’s something we advocated for, an equity in the allocation of funds so that it’s a stable per-student fee,” said Jahelka. “We think that’s important because all students deserve proper access to mental health services.”
While the SU knew that news about a mental health grant was on its way, Schmidt’s announcement was the first time Jahelka knew for certain that the government would increase funding.
“I was very excited about it,” she said. “To have our government recognize the importance of mental health on campus is such a big win for us.”
The provincial government is currently developing accountability measures to ensure the new funding is used appropriately. Schmidt said there will be more news about these measures in the future.
“Of course, we have to allow institutions the flexibility to deliver the services they find are appropriate for the students they’re serving,” he said. “The only thing I would be encouraging these institutions to do is to maintain healthy working relationships with students so that their voices can be heard in the process of developing mental health support.”