Treasa Fox, head of student counselling at Athlone Institute of Technology

AIT Partners in €1.5 Million Project Researching Student Counselling Services

"Third level institutions are the largest providers of psychologically-based mental health services for young people in Ireland, so it is crucial that they are supported fully"

Athlone Institute of Technology has joined forces with Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin to research student counselling services across the higher education landscape in a new €1.5 million project. This seminal research, entitled ‘Student Support Services’ Retention and Engagement Strategy: Consolidation of Best Practice, Centralisation of Data and Innovation in Student Experience’, will be the first of its kind to be carried out in Ireland.

Over the course of a three-year period, Athlone Institute of Technology will receive €600,000 to facilitate research into current practices in higher education counselling services in areas like suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. The team, led by psychologist Treasa Fox, will also investigate critical incident responding, innovative inter-agency collaborations, and international best practice guidance with the view to collating and categorising information and resources for use across Ireland’s 21 higher education institutions.

“Our counterparts in the UK, Europe, and the US have been collecting this kind of information for years, but this is the first time that we, in Ireland, have had the necessary resources. This funding will enable us to investigate, categorise, collate, and articulate what these services do, while also facilitating a knowledge transfer of expertise and knowledge across the sector, ensuring the best outcomes for our students,” Mrs Fox said.

The funding will be delivered through the Higher Education Authority’s Innovation and Transformation fund, which is dedicated to supporting innovation and transformation across the higher education system, specifically in the area of student learning outcomes, student retention and progression - at both an individual and institutional level - and through inter-institutional, sectoral and intersectoral collaboration.

“With resources thin on the ground, these objectives are more relevant than ever before. We expect that many of the innovations and actions resulting from this research will be replicable across the sector. All of our colleagues in universities and institutes of technology, big or small, will be able to access training and knowledge transfer that will, ultimately, benefit our students,” Mrs Fox added.

Welcoming the announcement, President of Athlone Institute of Technology, Professor Ciarán O Catháin, said: “We are delighted to partner with TCD and UCD in researching student counselling services across the HEI sector. Third level institutions are the largest providers of psychologically-based mental health services for young people in Ireland, so it is crucial that they are supported fully. Today’s students are our future business leaders, entrepreneurs, engineers, IT specialists, medical and pharmaceutical developers, nurses, social care workers and politicians of tomorrow. An investment in their mental health and well-being is an investment in the future of our country.”

In the academic year 2016/17, more than 14,000 students across Ireland’s higher education institutes accessed student counselling services while thousands more were treated through outreach programmes, consultation with the wider staff, and training/education work.

Athlone Institute of Technology is currently recruiting two postdoctoral researchers to work on this project, researching student mental health services and resource development. For further details on how to apply, please visit the AIT Vacancies website. Awarded Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year 2018, Athlone Institute of Technology is currently ranked first nationally for student satisfaction and first across the technological higher education sector for research.

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