Vice-chancellor admits mental health provisions are “not enough”

IMG_5838Vice-Chanceller Koen Lamberts came under pressure at a ‘question time’ panel last night as he clashed with students over mental health provisions, the Prevent strategy, and transparency laws.

Lamberts was forced on the defensive as he conceded there are “not enough” Open Door appointments and admitted “mental health provisions are quite vulnerable” in the city when “demand is higher than ever.”

He also revealed he has commissioned a strategic review of how the University approaches mental health lead by Professor Hillary Graham.

He said he would “expect to see answers as to what we can do better” at the end of March. Until then he said he would make no drastic changes, because he wanted decisions to be informed. “We are waiting for the review to come back,” he said.

Last month it emerged the University had spent £26 less per student on mental health provisions in the last five years, despite demand for Open Door skyrocketing.

Lamberts also said he was “terrified” about the prospect of the government’s Prevent strategy being focused on Muslim students.

“It’s not targeted [at certain groups],” he told students. “The risk is that it becomes targeted. That horrifies me … this is a real challenge for us.”

But he refused to properly criticise the initiative, which now forces the University to keep tabs on students who are “withdrawn” or seeking “political change.”

He said: “What I think about it is not that relevant.”

Lamberts refused to change his stance, revealed last month by York Vision, that the Freedom of Information Act should not apply to universities.

“We have a genuine commercial interest to protect,” he said, even though the University receives “a significant amount of public funding.”

This newspaper has only been able to expose scandalous spending by staff on expensive hotels, marketing projects and absurd expenses because of FoI law.

“If we are going to be able to compete with [private universities] on a level playing field, we should be exempt from the Freedom of Information act,” he said. “It’s a matter of principle.”

At the wide ranging event, hosted by YUSU President Ben Leatham, Lamberts also revealed:

· There is “only so much the University can do” to tackle online harassment “short of geofencing YikYak.” This would mean the social network could not be used on campus.

· He was “surprised” by “how strongly people felt” about the cancellation of International Men’s Day, and said the University would approach future events in a “measured way.”

· He has “full confidence” in the Chancellor, Malcolm Grant, who is “tremendous.” Grant was exposed by York Vision last year for saying there should be a “higher potential cap or even no cap at all” on tuition fees.

· He thinks the £10,000 of University money spent on Grant’s inauguration in October was a “good investment” because it attracted attention in the “right circles.”

· He believes Britain leaving the EU would be a “great risk to this University” and have “severe” implications. But he was forced to explain why he had not signed an open letter by other vice-chancellors backing Vote Remain because “we had agreed we wouldn’t take a campaigning position.”

· The University has invited two Syrian academics to travel to York, but there are issues with their Visas. “We are supporting them in trying to resolve those issues with the Home Office,” he said.

· Campus accomodation prices may rise again in the future. “I can’t promise that they will stay the same,” he said. This is partly because, he argued, more students want en-suite rooms. “We’ll do what we can.”


After the event he said: “I thought the students asked some very good questions, they didn’t shy away from any sensitive areas or difficult questions. It was very constructive.”

He added that he hoped for more “dialogue” events in the future.

Chairing the event, YUSU Prez Ben Leatham said that the event “sets a precedent for the University hopefully being more open and talking to students about the issues that they have.”