DUBAI—Sabrina Subaiei is just 22. She lives in a residence hall here at United Arab Emirates University and studies online. Far from her family in Saudi Arabia, she can go as many as seven days without seeing anyone in person.
Living in that solitary environment as a result of Covid-19 has driven the psychology student to campaign for a fully-fledged counseling center for students. Currently, she says only two counselors serve the university’s 15,000 students. She says the university should increase counseling support and come into line with international standards.
Louise Lambert, who teaches psychology at the university, says the difficulties that students like Subaiei have faced are widespread. “I don’t think Covid is to blame,” she says, “though it’s made it worse. I think universities have not done a good job generally in terms of mental health and well-being needs for students. It’s not about just helping those not doing well, it’s about helping everyone do better.”
Mental health has become a major priority across the emirates this year with initiatives led by the likes of the Ministry of Health and the Community Development Authority to raise awareness to support for mental health. But the effort to support students’ mental health appears to be uneven.
The Higher Colleges of Technology, the national public college network with 16 campuses, has one counselor at each campus. Ahmed Al Mulla, director of student engagement and success for the Higher Colleges, says the counselors have been vital in supporting students’ transition to an online life. Counseling sessions were delivered through online counseling, tele-counseling, live sessions and clinical online round tables. The counselors, he says, “have been very instrumental in helping students achieve academically by helping them cope with social, and emotionally challenging situations.”
Private Universities Respond
Some of the country’s private universities, including Abu Dhabi University and the American University of Sharjah, also have established counseling centers. New York University Abu Dhabi’s campus has three counselors in its health center for its roughly 1,350 students.